13 Sell All You Have, Dec 2, 2012

Ephesians 5:9-19

Luke 18:18-27

“Sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” How are we to understand this hard saying of the Savior?

It is in essence His command to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him if we would have treasure in heaven. For, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever would lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will find it.” The desire of the Christian life is to say with St John the Baptist, “I must decrease that He may increase;” and to say with St Paul, “For me to live is Christ! It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me!”

When the soul tastes how good the Lord is, her heart begins to burn until she becomes a flaming torch. She becomes all light, all love; for, the fire that burns in her is the love of God that has become the life that she now lives in Christ.

Perhaps when we hear this Gospel of the rich ruler, we are afraid that, like him, we, too, are in love with our worldly riches; and perhaps we are afraid that our response would be the same as his if we were to hear Christ say to us: “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What are we to do? How can our hearts become warm with such love for God that we would want to sell all that we have so that we can have treasure in heaven?

Well, I note that the first thing the Savior says to the rich ruler is not, sell all that you have, but rather: “You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.” These are from the Ten Commandments given on Mt Sinai. The Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites to help them get ready to receive Christ in love and to follow Him when He came to them. It is apparent, then, that this rich ruler in fact had not kept these commandments in his heart. He acts like those Israelites of whom the Lord complained through Isaiah: “This people draws near to me with their mouths, but in their heart they are far from Me.” His actions show a self-righteous, vainglorious hypocrite. He was not ready to sell everything he had for the sake of Christ and the Gospel because in his heart he did not love God. He loved His worldly riches.

This tells me that there must be in these commandments already the seed, if you will, of love for God; so that, if we did these commandments from the heart, we would grow in the love of God until our soul became a blossom wholly ablaze yet not consumed in love for God, ready to be harvested and sold and given to Christ (for I take Him to be “the poor” since He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant) so that we may have Christ (for I take Him to be the treasure in heaven given to those who love Him).

So, let’s look at these commandments a bit more closely. Perhaps these are closer to our weak strength. Perhaps they are the “little” love for God that we can be faithful in and so be made faithful over that greater love for God that gladly sells all it has, that leaves the world behind in joy so that it can have Christ.

“Do not commit adultery;” “do not murder;” “do not steal;” “do not bear false witness;” “honor your father and mother.” I believe these commandments refer to the life of the family.

For example, do not commit adultery. That’s mom and dad being faithful to one another in the biblical way of the Lord. The husband, as the head of his wife, loves her and gives himself only to her in mind and thought as well as in body, so that he is wholly hers. The wife, in turn, respects her husband and honors him and gives herself wholly to him. If mom and dad are practicing this commandment, are they not each one decreasing so that the other may increase? And, is not the denying of themselves for the sake of the other in essence selling all that they have? So, by observing the commandment, “Do not commit adultery,” they make the seed of love for God to grow in their soul. They are getting themselves ready to “sell all that they have”, to give their love wholly to Christ when He calls for them so that they might have treasure in heaven, Christ Himself.

Honor your father and mother. If the children practice this commandment, are they not practicing the humility of Christ? If the children honor their father and mother, are they not refusing to lay hold of all those insolent, narcissistic behaviors that tear the family apart? And are they not receiving in exchange a home life that is happy, healthy, loving, safe, warm and rich?

But the command to honor father and mother presupposes the command to parents to teach their children in the way that they should go, not only by their word, and not just by the “rod”, but above all by their living example. This presupposes a family life centered on Sunday morning Divine Liturgy, even on Saturday Vespers. It means making the rhythm of the Church’s festal cycle to be the rhythm of our home life, so that our life in the world becomes a daily remembrance, in the “joy of the feast”, of the saving events of the life of the Savior. It means selfish and harmful behaviors are not allowed; it means that only what is noble, true and good is allowed to enter the eyes and ears and leave the tongue; it means discipline that is firm and gentle, so that the home becomes a temple whose halls and chambers shape mom and dad, son and daughter in the blessings of love, dignity and respect in the way everyone treats each other. Is not everything I have described of this family that practices the command to honor father and mother, and its companion, to teach the children in the way they should go, is not all of this in effect a kind of selling of all that they have – i.e. a renouncing of all that is selfish and greedy and base, the so-called riches of the world – so that they can have in exchange treasures of heaven, i.e. all of the qualities that I named that are the fruit of honoring each other, and of being faithful to each other; for are they not all of the character of heaven?

Do not murder. Can this not also mean: Don’t hold a grudge? Don’t wallow in self-pity and blame others for the pickles you’ve gotten yourself into. Acknowledge and confess your sins, take responsibility for your own actions and for the pain you have caused. This will sow in our soul the divine seeds of that blessed mourning and meekness that make us poor in spirit, so that there can now sprout in us the shoots of power and courage, even the desire to ask forgiveness and to forgive. And is this also not a form of selling all we have, i.e. renouncing the desire to justify ourselves and blame everyone around us for our own problems, so that we can enjoy the fruit of love in mutual forgiveness? And, is this not of the character of the treasure in heaven, Christ God? 

Do not steal. Can this also not mean to give out of your abundance to those in need?

So, these commandments, to honor your father and mother and the rest, which the Lord first gives to the rich ruler, I believe are directed to the life of the family. They are meant to ground the family in the life of the Church, to make the family strong and healthy in the love of God by practicing love for each other in a home life that is centered on the worship of the Church. These commandments are the seed of Christ’s command to sell all that we have to follow Him. The command, to sell all that we have, is the blossom produced from the seed of divine love that is imbedded in the commandments to honor your father and mother and the rest. As we practice these commandments at home, they become our life, and we are made ready for that moment when Christ will come for the harvest and to call us to sell all that we have and give to the poor. That command will take a different form for each of us. It may be a call to the monastic life, a call to pursue ordination to the priesthood, to the mission field, to charitable service, for example. It will surely, however, come in that final form that is the same for all of us: the form of illness and death, for that is when we will be forced to sell all that we have whether we’re ready to or not. In each of its forms, tailor made I think for each of us, the command to sell all that we have and give to the poor to follow Christ is the command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.

Christ says that He is the vine, His Father is the vinedresser, we are the branches called to bring forth the flower of love for God. We can do that only as we abide in Christ; only as we practice these “seedling” commandments He has given to us to practice in the life of our family. The Father Himself, since He is the vinedresser, He will nurture us and watch over us through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Holy Spirit, and He will see to it, so long as we abide in Christ in the doing of His commandments, that our soul will put forth flower and be made ready to become all light, to become a flaming torch, every fiber of our being aflame and alive in love for God.

So, let us take heart. Let’s go home today and begin from this day, from this hour, from this moment, to live for God by taking up the commandments He has given us this morning that are within our strength to do: Do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother. Let’s be resolved to practice these commandments as best we can in the joyful hope that Christ Himself is tending us as plants in the garden of His body, the Church, and that He is abiding in us to the degree that we are able to hold Him, so that in the life of heaven that He gives to us, the seed of divine love is growing in us as we do these commandments, and it will produce the flower of such love for God that when Christ comes for the harvest, calling us to follow Him, we will be ready; for we will have learned the love of God, and in that love, we will want to sell all that we have that we may have Christ, the treasure in heaven who is given to those who love Him. Amen.