|14 - Sell All You Have, Dec 3, 2017|
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“Yet do you lack one thing,” the LORD says to this “certain ruler”: one thing to inherit eternal life. Read on this, the middle Sunday of the Fast, this Gospel may well be the “thesis” of Advent. Here, we see Christmas as the mystery of eternal life the rich ruler hopes to inherit, and selling all we have to follow Jesus as the one thing we must do to fill up what’s lacking in us if we want really to enter Christmas. Let’s reflect on what this real Christmas is and what selling all to follow Jesus means if, in fact, His is the Christmas we want to inherit.
“Sell all you have.” The all or nothing quality of the LORD’s command strikes deeper than whatever material riches I may possess. It hits me in my love for riches, and so it exposes my covetousness or my idolatry. (Col 3:5) It uncovers my disobedience and the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life” (I Jn 2:16) that I love and live in beneath the façade of whatever piety or moral “decency” I may present to the world.
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” the LORD says. These riches the ruler wants to hold onto are not just money; they are the consequences – physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual – of what we have chosen to spend the capital of our desires on.
Covetousness can be defined as lust or craving for what is forbidden; and, what’s forbidden is what would cripple me and kill me. St Dionysius would teach us that covetousness is our desire perverted, turned away from its natural object, which is God, the Good and the Beautiful (Philokalia II). This covetousness or perverted desire is the law of sin as St Paul teaches (Col 3:5); and, he says, it dwells in our members (Rom 7:23). I.e., our desire isn’t an abstraction. It becomes incarnate in us, embodied in our physiology so that it shapes our body, mind and thought, manifested as habits and patterns of behavior, even as addictions, affecting our physical, emotional and mental health. Even medical science knows this: it tells us that the choices we make produce physiological consequences even to the point of producing neurological changes in our brain.
“Who, then, can be saved!”
The LORD commands me to sell all my riches. But, love for riches is embodied in me. If I am to be saved, I can’t follow Jesus in the abstract, simply by flipping a mental switch, because I am not an abstraction. I am body, mind and soul. To be saved, my choice to follow Jesus must be embodied in me. I must sell all I have; but to sell all I have means I must lose my life for His sake.
Here, the Gospel sets us before the tragedy of our life. The riches we chase after to fill and give meaning to our life are rooted in death and corruption. Loving my riches, I hold on to what I don’t want: decay, death, corruption, emptiness; I walk away from what I want: Beauty, Goodness, Life, meaning, fullness – which is Jesus. “The wanting of the good (or what is beautiful, kalos) is present to me,” says St Paul: parakeimai – it lies close at hand; it has not been destroyed; but the doing of it is not (Rom 7:18). The law of sin – my covetousness, my perverted desire – holds me captive so that I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate (Rom 7:15).
Is this why the rich ruler went away grieving? Might it be that he wanted to sell all his riches? Might it be that we want deep down to be freed of the riches of our habits and addictions that enslave us so that we could follow Jesus, but we cannot because the law of sin – our covetousness, our perverted desire – has become the very shape of our body, our emotions, our mind? To follow Jesus to His Christmas, then, means that this body, which has become the embodiment of the law of sin, of covetousness, must be destroyed, as St Paul says! (Rom 6:6) I must lose my life for His sake and return to the dust of the ground to be reshaped, refashioned as a New Creation. That means my heart, the root of my will, must be created anew so that my will can be saved – healed of its perversion and delivered from its enslavement to what it hates: death and corruption.
With men this is impossible, the LORD answers; but it is possible with God. The law of sin is not an abstraction, for it dwells in our members and makes our bodies to be the incarnation of sin (Rom 6:6 & 7:23). So also, the Law of our salvation – Christ our God, the perfection of the Law (Rom 10:4) – is not an abstraction. In the Cave of Bethlehem – as in the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest – we behold the fullness of God dwelling in the Christ Child bodily (cf. Col 2:9)! And, in the Tomb of Pascha – as in the Cave of Christmas – we behold Christ our God as a corpse. In His birth and death, the mysteries of Christmas and Pascha, He has become one with us not as an abstract idea but in our flesh and blood and in the very death we hate and fear (cf. Mk 15:45, Phil 2:6 & Heb 2:14-15).
The call of the angel to the myrrh-bearing women as they draw near to the tomb reveals now a deeper meaning: “Don’t be afraid! Look and understand!” Go ahead! Look into the death that you so hate and fear and understand! Christ is born! The LORD is risen! What man could not do, God has done! He has destroyed our death by His death! The Tomb is the Cave in which we are born of the Spirit from above as children of God; it is the Font of Resurrection, the Gate through which we pass over to inherit eternal life!
From this vision within the Cave of Christmas and the Tomb of Pascha, turn again to the LORD’s command: “Sell all that you have and give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me!” You need not fear death because when you lose your life for the sake of Christ, you do no more than unite yourself to Him in the very death you fear; and, in the tomb of your heart you discover Christ in you. He is the treasure of heaven; He is the Resurrection and the Life! So, don’t be afraid to sell all you have. In dying you die in Christ; and dying in Christ, you live in His Resurrection!
No, I’m still afraid. Where do I find the will to do this? How is my will healed and made strong so that I can follow Jesus to His Christmas?
The LORD’s command is not to give but to sell all we have. In the world, we sell something to receive something in return that’s at least of equal value. But, the “poor” is Christ. It says that He became poor for our sake so that by His poverty we might be made rich (2 Cor 8:9). What, then, does it mean to sell all we have and give to the poor that we may have treasure in heaven and follow Jesus?
What do we have that we can sell to Christ? Is it not the riches of our covetousness? To sell all that we have, then, is not to fix ourselves that we may present ourselves “fixed” to God; it is to confess our covetousness so that God can fix us and make us right. For selling the riches of our covetousness to Christ, what do we receive in return? A clean heart in the cleansing of our sins, deliverance from the crippling habits and addictions of our “riches”, the healing of our desire and the strengthening of our will so that we can do what we want to do: follow Jesus into eternal life.
Suddenly, we find ourselves in the parable of the talents. In exchange for our confession, God gives us Grace, a Talent, and if, in the strength of that Talent, we give our desire to Christ, the poor, He, in exchange, gives us more Talents, more strength to sell all our riches, to deny ourselves, to resist the desire to do the evil we hate and to follow Him in the taking up of our cross, offering ourselves to Him as a “living sacrifice” in the ascetic disciplines of the Church – prayer and fasting and almsgiving. The more we offer the strength of our will to Christ in the doing of His commandments, the more strength He gives to our will in the exchange to do His commandments, the Good we love. And so, we begin to lose the life of the old man that was enslaved to death and corruption. As we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus in the Grace of the Talents He gives to us, the more the Life of Jesus becomes manifest in us; the more Christ Himself is embodied in us. The LORD is reshaping us. We are being refashioned in our body, our mind our soul. The Grace of the Holy Spirit is, if you will, the covering for the Love of God. What makes us strong in the Talent of God’s Grace is that it floods our heart with the love of God so that we want to sell all for the sake of the ineffable sweetness of God’s love. Our hearts are being created anew; they are being enlarged. When the love of God enlarges our hearts, our hearts do not break. They are healed, made whole, raised to life, delivered from the chains of hell. It is in that love that we follow Jesus into the real Christmas, all the way to the Sabbath Rest of His Tomb, the Font of our Resurrection. We are inheriting eternal life, which is Christ Himself. Amen!