Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story before us this morning is one that is commonly shared by the synoptic Gospels, that is, by Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Mt. 19:16-26; Mk. 10:17-31). We have come to know him as “the rich young ruler,” but that’s only because we have pieced together several pieces of his commonly held story. Although he is represented by some as being disingenuous in his inquiry, a sort of cozying up to Jesus by calling Him “’Good Teacher,’” even trying to entrap Him, I am inclined to follow St. Theophylactus by giving this presumably young though wealthy man the benefit of the doubt, at least here in St. Luke’s account.
In each of the Gospels, he presents himself to Jesus as an inquirer into Eternal Life, a question I imagine that each of us here, has no doubt, asked or wondered about ourselves sometimes, if not often. And although many around us in our culture may not be asking that question so directly, yet the pursuit for Eternal Life is what lies behind our human ventures and endeavors unbeknownst to many of us. For, you see, beloved, we all were created for Eternal Life, even as the Wisdom of Solomon tells us: “For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity” (WS 2:23). But, as we all know, “through envy of the devil came death into the world; and those who take hold of his side do find it” (WS 2:24). Or, to quote St. Augustine who speaks from his own experience, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee” (Confessions).
So, we have “a certain ruler’” who comes to Jesus in search of Eternal Life, maybe seeking reassurance that he’s on the right path, and he addresses Jesus as “’Good Teacher.’” Again, giving him the benefit of the doubt, we will accept that he truly meant what he said to Jesus, that Jesus is, in fact the good Teacher. But, our Lord lets him – and us – know that there is no one who is good, that is, the source of goodness, except God. So, when we approach Jesus, just like this seeker of Eternal Life, do we do so in faith believing that Jesus Christ is indeed God made flesh, the Source of our goodness (for He is a good God and loves mankind) or do we do so as just another religious or spiritual leader seeking His opinions? So, in a sense, our Lord is challenging His inquirer to think about his relationship with God and how he understands Who Jesus is, just as He challenges us. “Do you call Me good because I AM God revealed or because you think I’m just like you – another religious leader or teacher of the Law?” How we approach our Lord God and Master Jesus Christ will definitely make a difference in our search and in how we receive what He says to us. “’Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of Eternal Life, and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Jn. 6:68-69).
So, the One Who has the words of Eternal Life, indeed, the One Who is Eternal Life itself, what does He speak to His seeker? He points him to continue doing what he has been taught and has been doing, as the man indicates, “’from my youth up.’” In His divine response, our Lord seeks to build on that solid foundation laid and built upon over the years by His seeker from his early days. In St. Matthew’s rendition, Jesus firmly instructs the seeker, “’But if you want to enter into Life, keep the commandments’” (Mt. 19:16-26). The commandments of God, beloved, have been fulfilled in our Lord and it is our striving to live these words of God out, fleshing them out in our lives, that we come to understand God’s commandments which express His will. They lead us to Jesus Christ and through Christ God we have Eternal Life.
But, it is here that our Lord says something that pulls this seeker of Eternal Life up short – and maybe even us, if we think too highly of ourselves! Jesus as the good Teacher, as the Lord and Master, as God and Saviour of the world, says to him (because Jesus knows him through and through since He created him . . . and us), “’Yet lackest thou one thing.’” Jesus knows what this man needs. He knows what we need, too, what you need and what I need to become more fully in the image and likeness of God, that is, Eternal Life. If we want Eternal Life, we can’t be self-satisfied with “just making it,” that is, we can’t be content with the minimum. Eternal Life is the embracing of the fullness of God in our lives and for our salvation!
“’You still lack one thing,’” Jesus says. “’Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when he heard this,” we’re told, “he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.” His grief matched the size of his wealth. He was “very sorrowful” because he was “very rich.” Jesus knew that as religious, as spiritual, as devout and as pious as this man was from his youth on up, God had to dig deeper in his soul. There was a point in this seeker’s life that he had stopped giving to God all things. What was holding him back from the fullness of Eternal Life which he was in pursuit of, were his things, his possessions, whether many or few, but they were nonetheless very great in his eyes, enough to cause him to pause in his devotion to God and his quest for Eternal Life. He left the “’good Teacher’” downcast and dejected. It is here that our Lord duly notes just how hard it is for those whose hearts and lives are wrapped up in possessions to enter the Kingdom of God. Possessions have a way of clouding our vision of God and detouring us on the road into the Kingdom of God. They have a way of subtly eroding our faith and hope and love; of stealing us away from our first Love and supplanting it (or rather supplanting Him) with a poor substitute. The remedy, according to Jesus, is to “’Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, . . . .’” (Rv. 2:1-7).
Beloved, there is much talk among Biblical commentators, even the Fathers to some degree, as to whether this total and “absolute auction,” if you will, this selling of all things, applies even to us. There are a number of saints who, having heard the words of our Lord here, went and did likewise, which is to say, they did exactly what Jesus said and divested themselves of all their worldly goods. So, are we to do the same? Or, are we to take that the “good Teacher’s” words do not apply to us? Yes and no. They may not apply as specifically as they do to this inquirer because our Lord knew his heart and soul and knew what was holding him back, but they still apply to us. Elsewhere Jesus has said to us, “’But seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’” (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31). If we take the “good Teacher’s” words seriously and seek God and His Kingdom and His righteousness above all else (for all intents and purposes obeying the first and greatest commandment to love God above all else and to have no other gods [Ex. 20:2; Dt. 5:7; Mt. 22:37-38; Mk. 12:28-30]), if we devote our time to that, that will be more than sufficient to fill our days and our nights! Again, Jesus knows quite well that we cannot serve two masters, which was the issue with today’s seeker, and that if we try to, “’a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand’” (Mt. 6:24; 12:25; Mk. 3:24-25; Lk. 16:13).
Perhaps the question is for us: what is it that you need to sell in order to follow Jesus? What is in your life – and mine – that we need to divest ourselves of, get rid of, to sacrifice to God, in order to more fully and fervently follow the Master? What in our lives craftily displaces God more and more, ever so subtly? We can – and should – start with our stuff. Possessions are tangible and concrete things that can get in the way of Eternal Life if they become our focus. But, so can certain attitudes, passions, prejudices, mindsets, you name it. What pet sins do we not want to part company with in order to have the abundant Life to the full which Jesus has come to give us (Jn. 10:10)? What in our lives does not yet belong to God? We can answer that be asking ourselves: what am I unwilling to give to God? Where am I resisting God’s intrusion? If God is asking me to trust Him to tithe or expand my ministry in the Church or to begin attending Vespers and other services more faithfully, do I find myself resisting and making excuses as to why I cannot, instead of saying, “Yes, Lord, I can”? Are there persons in my life, perhaps friends or family, who discourage me from more fully giving myself over to following Jesus?
So, what is it that our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is asking from us today, if we, too, want to inherit Eternal Life? If He is our “’good Teacher,’” what is He saying to us, asking us to do? Whatever He is beckoning us to do, brethren, let us not forget that we’ve come this far with Him. He Who calls us is faithful, says the Apostle, and He will not abandon us (1 Th. 5:24). But rather He will empower us to complete what it is He calls us to do for it is God Who makes all things possible when we think otherwise (Pp. 1:6; 2:13). And, if we can’t bear the whole yoke just now, says an early Christian writing, then let us do what we can to the extent of our ability in the meantime (Didache 6:2; Barnabas 19:8). And, “let us commend ourselves and each other and our whole life unto Christ our God”!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!