17 - THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN, January 16, 2022

Colossians 3.12-16

Luke 18.18-27

It’s easy to see the sin of greed in the rich young ruler of this morning’s Gospel. And greed, or love of money, what St Paul calls idolatry, is the root of all evil, he tells St Timothy. But the rich young ruler’s idolatry, his greed, isn’t why he couldn’t be saved.

In his greed, we can also see the sin of carnal desire—that is, love for the pleasures of the flesh and the sweet things of this life (not that these are evil in and of themselves, for they are given us by God Himself as a pledge of future blessings. This is what the priest’s prayer at Vespers teaches us. But they become a snare for us when we begin to live for them in greed, and we don’t enjoy them in gratitude to God, sharing our blessings with others in need). And, in the rich ruler’s carnal desire, we can see the sin of self-love, which St Maximos says is the root of all evil. Greed or idolatry, or love of money, that is, and carnal desire, are but different forms self-love takes in us. But this, too, isn’t why the rich young ruler couldn’t be saved.

For who of us can claim we are not infected with one form or another of this destructive self-love—that is, the self-love of idolatry that is centered on itself? For there is, St Maximos teaches, a healthy and saving self-love. This healthy self-love desires what is good for us, what makes us whole and gives us eternal life: to love God and to be with Him and to be filled with Him. It’s like the bride who loves her husband and wants to be with him and to be filled with him and to bear his children.

The sin in the rich young ruler this morning that made it so he cannot be saved the holy fathers tell us: it is the sin of not repenting.

We see the same sin in Judas Iscariot, another ‘lover of money.’ I submit that he was not lost to perdition because he betrayed the LORD, but because, instead of repenting, he gave in to the sin of despair—a perverted form of self-love—and hanged himself. What would have happened if Judas had sought, in a heart utterly broken and contrite, forgiveness from the LORD? What if Judas had put all his trust, all his hope, or rather, let’s say, what if Judas had given his despair over to the LORD of Glory and not to the lord of darkness? The LORD Jesus Himself tells His disciples, and Judas was there when He said it: ‘With man, it is not possible for the rich man, the lover of money, to be saved; but with God, saving [even the rich man] is possible!’ But it is not possible if the lover of money will not repent!

He who calls on the Name of the LORD will be saved. Draw near to the LORD and He will draw near to you. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. For who but the LORD will rise up for me and stand with me against the host of my sins? (Ps 94.16) When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O LORD, held me up. [Psa 94:18] Trust in God and you will be saved, and your flesh will flower again (Ps 28.7 LXX). I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD;’ then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. (Psa 32:5)

Where is Jesus headed when this rich young ruler comes to Him and asks Him what he must to do inherit eternal life? If we look in St Luke, we find that the Savior is passing through Samaria and Galilee on His way to Jerusalem, to His suffering and death on the Cross and His three-day burial in the Tomb. If we consider this morning’s Gospel in its liturgical setting, having just taken leave of the Feast of Theophany (on Friday last) when the LORD was baptized by John in the Jordan, we see Him coming out of the wilderness where He began His defeat of the devil, and coming the Land of Israel to make His way finally to Jerusalem. That is, the LORD is headed for the heavens that were opened to Him at the Jordan. They are the heavens opened to those who would follow Him through the wilderness of their own soul and mind and into His Tomb. For it is in His Tomb that the stone is rolled away the Tomb is transformed into the Gate of Heaven. Passing over into the LORD’s Tomb, quoting from St Hesychios, ‘We attain a vision of the Holy of Holies and we are illumined by Christ with deep mysteries—the mysteries of God hidden from the ages.

What is set before us is as it were a map of the inner Exodus of the Gospel. If we are following the LORD Jesus into the wilderness of our soul, in order to make our way with Him into the tomb of our heart, we are passing into the place where dwells the prince of this age together with all his dark spirits that are working in the sons of disobedience, filling their minds with carnal desires and thoughts. (Eph 2.2-3) That is, we are stepping onto the Path, which is Christ Himself, that takes us right into the midst of hell and the evil one’s dominion. We are coming into the field of spiritual battle. We are coming into a fight where everything is at stake, life or death, salvation or perdition, heaven or hell. Our fight is not with flesh and blood, but with dark rulers, authorities, with worldly powers of darkness, and with spirits of evil (Eph 6.12) who roam the wilderness of our inner man like a roaring lion seeking whom to devour (1 Pt 5.8; see Eze 22.25, Ps 22.13, Pro 28.15).

Who, then, can be saved? With men, this is impossible, but with the LORD everything is possible, including the salvation of us who are lovers of money, including us who are drowning in the lusts of carnal desires and thoughts—if we will repent and in the confession of our sins, cast their burden on the LORD and put our trust in Him and not in ourselves. Put on the whole armor of God, says St Paul (Eph 6.13). St Hesychios (5th cent.) I think teaches us what are the materials that constitute the armor of God: humility, inner attentiveness to all the thoughts that present themselves to us, to discern if they are of God or from another source, fasting (that is, fasting from our desires for carnal pleasures, fasting with our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, feet, thoughts and desires), and prayer, that is, calling on the Name of the LORD in ceaseless mindfulness of His presence in our inner man. At the root of all this is repentance in the confession of our sins.

We are saved not by ourselves but by grace, says St Paul. What opens us to the salvation of the LORD, a salvation which is possible to Him alone, is humility, brokenness of heart and repentance in the confession of our sins.

Dear faithful, with Christmas and Theophany behind us, we have turned the corner. The Path goes before us, Christ Jesus Himself. He blazes the trail up into the opened heavens through the horde of demons and dark spirits, routing them before us as the LORD routed the Egyptians in the Red Sea. This is the Path of Great Lent. It leads through the wilderness, through the ‘air’ of our inner man, our thoughts and desires all the way to the tomb first of our own heart, the tomb of Lazarus, and then it goes even deeper, into the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. Follow it and we will be cleansed and become heirs of eternal life.

In this in-between time when the Feasts of Christmas and Theophany are behind us, and the opening of the Lenten Triodion is yet ahead of us, we should not be slack in our inner man. We should be getting ourselves ready to present ourselves to the LORD as though we are the rich young ruler—for who of us isn’t? But let us learn the lesson of this morning’s Gospel. What will send us to perdition is not our sins but our refusal to repent of them, and our seeking refuge not in Christ the LORD but in our own riches. Let us begin now to cultivate inner attentiveness, to discern in what direction our heart is turned and become obedient to the LORD’s commandment to repent. Let’s begin preparing the way of our soul, setting the paths of our inner man straight by turning our inner attention onto the LORD, seeking Him while He may be found, seeking His help and His mercy in repentance and in the confession of our sins, asking Him to strengthen us and help us so that we can do what He calls us to do, and cultivate humility, inner attentiveness, self-denial and prayer in the contrite spirit of repentance, that we may inherit eternal Life which is Christ Himself.

To our great God and Savior Jesus Christ be all glory, honor and worship! Amen!