01 - The Rich Man, September 4, 2011

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Matthew 19:16-26

If the Church is the body of Christ, then are we not coming to Christ this morning as did the rich man in this morning’s Gospel in coming to Church? And, by our presence in Church this morning, are we not saying to Christ the words of the rich man: “Good Teacher, what must we do to gain eternal life?” Then, is not the Savior’s command to the rich man directed to us: Sell your possessions and give to the poor and follow Me?

In this, the Savior is simply telling us to do like the man in one of His parables: “The Kingdom of Heaven,” He says, “is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man finds it, he goes in joy and sells (the same word used in Mt 19:21) all that he has in order to buy the field (and the treasure hiding in it).”[1] The rich man in this morning’s Gospel did not go away from Jesus in joy but in sorrow. He must not have recognized Jesus as the treasure of heaven hiding in the field of this world. Or it may be that he simply loved the riches of the world more than he loved God. In another parable, Jesus says: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for precious pearls. When he found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”[2] Looking at the rich man’s actions against the backdrop of this parable, it is clear that he was not in search of precious pearls. What, then, was he in search of? But, if we are like the rich man in our coming to Church this morning, the question is directed at us. What precious pearl are we in search of?

But if we are here this morning addressing Christ as “Good Teacher” as did the rich man – and indeed, such He is, for He is both Good, even the Source of the Good, and He is Teacher, or Rabbi – then what are we saying, not about Jesus but about the precious pearl we’re in search of? For I think it is to this – to the love of our heart – that the Savior’s rebuke to the rich man is directed when He says: “Why do you call me good? Only one is good, and that is God alone.” For, observe what is happening in the exchange between Jesus and the rich man. Of the commandments that Jesus gives to him, there is one commandment missing. It is the first and greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. But, we can see that Jesus does give this commandment to the rich man. He gives it to him in a veiled form when He commands him to go sell his possessions and give to the poor and follow Him. In telling him to sell his possessions and follow Him, Jesus is telling the rich man to love Him with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. And so, He is testing the rich man, to see if in addressing Him as “Good Teacher”, he is addressing him as God or as an ordinary man; for if the rich man truly loved God with all his heart, soul and mind, would he not know Jesus as the Son of God? More than that, would he not do as Jesus commands – sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow Him; in other words, love Him with all his heart, soul, strength and mind? When, therefore, the rich man turns away from Jesus in sorrow, choosing to love his possessions over Jesus, he proves that he is no different than the Israelites of old of whom the Lord complained to His prophet, Isaiah: “This people draws near to me with their lips, but in their hearts, they are far from Me.”[3]

And here we are this morning, addressing Jesus not only as “Good Teacher” but even as Lord and Savior and Son of God. Might His rebuke to the rich man in this morning’s Gospel be directed to us? “You address me as Good Teacher! You address me as God. Then why don’t you do as I tell you? Your actions say that you love the world with all your soul, heart and mind. You do not love Me. You do not sell your possessions and give to the poor; that is to say: You do not give your energy searching for Me. You give your energy searching for money and vainglory. You do not love the treasure of heaven. You love the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Don’t call me Good Teacher, don’t call me God or Son of God if you don’t do what I tell you to do.”

How shall we respond to the Savior’s rebuke to us this morning? Let’s not turn away in sorrow as did the rich man, even though we see that we are men and women rich in our love for the world who do not love Christ our God as He commands; that we do in fact love the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life more than Him; we do give all of our energy to acquiring worldly riches and glory and not to attaining the treasures of heaven. Let’s not turn away from Jesus in sorrow. Let’s turn toward Jesus in sorrow. Let us kneel at His feet in worship and confess to Him our sin, this sickness of our soul. And, let us pray to Him: “Lord, help my unbelief. Heal me of my greed and of my love for lust and vainglory. Teach me Thy way. Wound my soul with heavenly love for Thee.”

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus turns to His disciples when the rich man has gone away and says: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Years ago, I learned that the eye of a needle was a very small gate in the wall that surrounded the city of Jerusalem. It was too small for a camel to get through without the camel getting to its knees and bowing its head to the ground. And, what camel can crawl? The picture of a camel on its knees with its head bowed to the ground is an image of humility. And, the Savior tells us that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for the camel to crawl through the eye of a needle on its knees than it is for us who are rich in our love for the world to acquire humility. Who of us, then, can be saved?

It is impossible for men, says the Savior, but for God all things are possible. And indeed, is it not God the Son who emptied Himself, who humbled Himself, who in His Glory and Majesty and Power cannot be contained allowed Himself to be contained in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, and became man and was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross? In His ineffable humility, Christ God did what is impossible both for the camel and for men rich in their love for the world. He passed through the eye of a needle in the mystery of His Incarnation and His Holy Pascha. He who knew no sin partook of our flesh and blood and made Himself to be sin for us. He cleansed us by His blood to make us who are impure and unworthy pure and worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. He opened the gates of Eden. The Tree of Life is before us. All who wish may enter to partake again of its fruit, Christ our God in Holy Eucharist and to become a partaker of the divine nature.

Therefore, like the camel, let’s bow our heads and prostrate ourselves to the ground in the posture of humility before Christ and present ourselves to Him for whom all things are possible. Let us beseech Him to heal us of our pride and vainglory and to teach us as God, the Good Teacher, how to walk the path that would take us into Eden that we may attain Christ, the treasure of heaven.

“Go,” He is teaching us this morning in His words to the rich man, “sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow Me.”

But are we not already selling all that we have? I mean, as we get older, are we not year by year selling, i.e. losing, all that we have: our physical agility, our youthful beauty, our hair, our smooth skin, finally our life? Since we’re selling our possessions anyway, why not sell them to Christ and give them all to Him? For, I think that He might be secretly referring to Himself when He says, give to the poor. He is the One who emptied Himself and partook of our poverty, born in a humble cave. He is the Son of Man who has nowhere to lay His head. So, sell all you have to Christ and not to death by uniting yourself to Him in obedience to His commandments as God, the Good Teacher. Sell all you have: i.e., let’s turn our life into an offering to the Savior. Let’s give our energy to walking in the Way of His commandments and no more to chasing after the lusts and vainglory of the world. Let’s begin to offer more of our time to prayer and fasting and charity and less to frivolous pursuits and entertainments that do not edify us. Let’s begin to offer our mind less to fantasy and daydreams and more to reading Scripture, the writings of the holy fathers, the lives of the saints. Let’s center our weekly routine on offering ourselves to Christ God on the altar of the Divine Liturgy, both on Sundays and on the days of the Feasts. Let’s assume in our body, our mind, our soul and our heart the posture of the camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle, and in this posture of humility, let’s wait for the Lord to do what is impossible for us: to take us through the eye of the needle in the mystical glory of His Holy Pascha to come into the City of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, made rich in the heavenly treasure of Christ’s own glory and majesty that He gives to those who love Him. Amen.

[1] Mt 13:44

[2] Mt 13:46

[3] Isa 29:13