|02 - Rich Young Man, Sept 11, 2016 (with audio)|
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Galatians 6:11-16 (Sunday Before)
I Corinthians 15:1-11
John 3:13-17 (Sunday Before)
With the nativity of the Virgin, we begin the Church New Year in the joy her nativity brings. The Bridal Chamber of the Light, the Book of the WORD of Life has come forth from the womb of blessed Anna. The East Gate is born and awaits the entrance of the Great Priest, Christ, the only-Begotten Son of God, the Creator and Savior of the world.
In the expectant joy that dawns on the world in the birth of the Virgin, the faithful elevate the cross high, and make ready to set out on the days and months of the New Church Year as on an Exodus to the LORD’s life-creating Pascha. Our eternal destiny is at stake, dear faithful.
This morning, Mother Church sets before us this Gospel of the rich young man to rouse us from our sloth born out of our sinful and casual indifference to the fate of our soul. Note how the LORD’s command to the rich young man is set in the light of the LORD’s love for the world, manifested in His obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross for the purpose of sharing in our death; for out of His inexpressible love, He desired to become perfectly one with us because it is His will that we should become perfectly one with Him so that the joy of the Father that is in Him might be in us, and that even Christ Himself, the only-begotten Son of God, might be in us.
This mystery is great, beyond our ability to comprehend, and yet the divine mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory, is the primary principle of our nature. Why on earth are we so disinterested, so bored by this Gospel teaching? You are gods, sons of the Most High! The LORD Himself tells us this, twice (Ps 81:6 LXX; Jn 10:34)! Why does this divine word slide off of us like water off a duck’s back? Why in the Name of Heaven are we so ready to deny ourselves that we might have worldly riches; but we won’t lift a finger to have the Treasure of Heaven – the LORD Jesus Christ Himself?
What on earth do we want that we think worldly wealth will give to us? I am struck by how generous and gracious the LORD is to this rich man. Even though this rich man demonstrates by his actions that he has not kept the commandments at all, even so, the LORD gives to him a precious word that would raise his soul to life in the joy of the Father and give him riches infinitely more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces (Ps 118:72 LXX). But, the rich man turns his back on the gracious LORD and walks away, sorrowful.
What a tragedy this young man’s love for the riches of the world has made of him! He is an adulterer, for he has spurned the God who created him and who loves him so much that He emptied Himself to the point of bitter death on the cross that he, the rich man, might have Treasure in Heaven and eternal life! Why does he not grieve over how the adultery of his idolatry has grieved and separated him from the greatly compassionate God who loves him and gave Himself for him? Is he so selfish, so dead, that he can’t feel how lonely and afraid he is in his riches that he would choose that over eternal life in the joy and love of the LORD Jesus Christ, the Treasure of Heaven?
This is the action by which the rich man shows that in keeping the commandments, he did not keep them at all. I treasure this word of the LORD to the rich man! It is a word to me. It penetrates my flesh with fear (Ps 118:120 LXX) and does not cease to work on me, however much I try to get out from under its indictment by massaging it with nuanced interpretations that would delude me, allowing me to hold on to my worldly riches while believing that I am following the LORD. I pray it will penetrate my flesh with fear and work on my soul until the day I die.
For, the word of the LORD to the rich man would penetrate to the division of his soul and spirit, all the way down to the thoughts and intentions of his heart. This is precisely where the rich man would have been if he had, in fact, been keeping the commandments of the LORD. What did he lack? He lacked the heart that is at the heart of the commandments. He lacked love for God. For, if he had been keeping the commandments, they would have led him – as we see most clearly in, for example, the Psalms (and especially Ps 118 LXX) – into his heart and made him drunk with desire for the LORD from having tasted the ineffable goodness of the LORD.
If he had truly kept the commandments, he would have recognized Jesus immediately in his heart as more than a “teacher”, and as the LORD God whose mercy fills the earth (Ps 119:64), whose word is truth, whose commandments are sweeter to the soul than honey to the tongue because they are full of righteousness, the life of God, and they impart divine light and life to those who keep them. Therefore, to hear the command, in effect, to lose his life for the sake of Christ, and to follow Jesus, i.e., to unite himself to the LORD Jesus Christ in the likeness of His death that he might become perfectly one with Him in the likeness of His Resurrection, this would have been the sweetest word he could have heard from the LORD.
That it wasn’t to him, and that it isn’t so to me – to me it is a very hard word that makes me squirm and look for an “out” – I take as the action of the WORD of God that is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the division of my soul and spirit to reveal the idolatry that chokes the thoughts and intentions of my heart.
But, I welcome this action of the WORD of the LORD. It is a chastening that blesses, a blessing that heals. its truth is as unyielding as adamantine; and precisely because of this, it cleanses, it heals. I can feel my soul slowly waking up to a divine life that is sweeter than honey even as a taste. I do not turn away from the LORD grieving because I must forsake my riches to follow Him. I grieve because I find it so hard to turn away from my riches. I find the words of that certain father coming to my lips: “LORD, I believe, help my unbelief!” Reading the Scriptures, I learn that I am not alone. St Paul experienced the same: “In my inner man, I take delight in the law of God; but I see another law in my fleshly members, warring against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin,” to an idolatrous adultery, a spiritual fornication, a lust for worldly riches that I hate even as I do its bidding! (Rom 7:15-23)
So, the rich man wasn’t alone. I am not alone, you are not alone, we are all under the same condemnation of idolatry; we are all captive to this sin of spiritual adultery, this love for worldly riches. But, I think it is faithful to the teaching of the holy fathers to say that if we find ourselves feeling a certain hatred for our love for worldly riches, even as we continue to be bound by it, that in itself is the sign that the Virgin has been born, the Bridal Chamber of the Light has appeared and the Light of Christ is dawning in our soul! For, it is in that Light of Christ shining in our soul from the Blessed Virgin that we are able to see our idolatry and to feel our darkness and to smell the stench of our sins.
What, then, are we to do? How are we to be saved? Dear faithful, if you will, let us seek out the chastening of the LORD. And in the cleansing and healing His chastening brings, in the love for God that is conceived in our soul when we receive His sweet chastening, let us work to lay hold the love of our heart and keep the commandments of Christ with attention in our heart. Pray to God from the heart. Keep the fast not as a religious obligation, but out of love for Christ, as our opportunity to share with Christ even a little bit in the suffering He suffered out of His love for us. Enter into the eternal life of God that is already present to you in His Holy Church by coming to the services of the Church as often as you can; and when you come, stand reverently in the fear of God, with faith and love. Listen, look, absorb all that you see and hear and make it your own. We are receiving in all the words of the Church the Word of the LORD Jesus Christ Himself; and it is He who will deliver us and heal us and save us and deify us in His great love for us, if we will but do His commandments from our heart. Amen!