For audio, click here
For video, click here
With the help of St Paul, let’s find the lesson in this morning’s Gospel by asking three questions: Who is this Jesus calling us to follow Him; where are we following Him to; how do we follow Him?
We heard St Paul telling us this morning that Jesus is the Son of God who, by His death on the Cross, destroyed in His flesh the enmity that sets us against God and one another. (Eph 2:14-15) St Paul teaches us in Romans that the fleshly mind or mentality (phronema: thoughts, inclination or purpose) is at enmity with God (Rm 8:7).
This is the enmity the Savior ‘slew’ on the Cross (Eph 2:16) in His flesh. If we follow this Jesus, then, we enter into the joy of His divine peace where the enmity that cuts us off from God and kills us has been killed. Jesus Himself is the Peace of God whom the world cannot take away from us because in His flesh, the LORD Christ has overcome the world; and so this Peace of Christ changes us within; it makes us who were dead alive again. (Lk 15:32) It reconciles us to God; it makes us a new man; in this Peace, in the flesh of Christ, we have access to the Father by the same Holy Spirit (Eph 2:15-18) who raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler, “Sell all you have and give to the poor,” bear a spiritual meaning. Jesus is the poor One who, though He was rich, for our sake, He became poor so that by His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). In these terms, to sell all my riches means to give away the riches of my carnal mind’s enmity over to the Savior’s Cross. These are the riches of conceit and greed, which, St Paul tells us, are the essence of idolatry (Col 3:5). To give to the poor means to incline the enmity of my carnal mind to the purpose of acquiring the riches of the Savior’s poverty. These are the riches of humility, meekness, lowliness, longsuffering, mercy. To sell all and give to the poor, then, means to give myself over to the purpose of acquiring the riches of the LORD’s poverty, the riches of His Holy Spirit, the riches of His Resurrection.
This tells us where we are following Jesus to: to that wall of enmity that sets me against God deep in my soul. To follow Jesus is to come face to face with the greed of my idolatry, to the love of my carnal mind wherein I cleave to the dust I was taken from, and not to the Spirit of God (Ps 118:25 LXX). We are heading straight for our deep heart that, before, loomed before us as an impenetrable darkness, where we felt that God, if He even exists, was far away, where He was not a living presence, just an idea.
So, dear faithful, observe with me how all the commandments of the LORD lead to peace and reconciliation. None of them are religious theories or philosophical arguments. None of them seeks to convince us that God is. They simply set before us a living practice that we are called to do. And, all of them, when practiced, produce deeds and lead to a mind inclined to justice and mercy, which in turn give birth to justice and mercy, or to peace and reconciliation. As such, the commandments of the LORD are eternally and universally valid: whether I am sick or healthy, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, if I do them, they produce in my soul peace and reconciliation. My soul feels rich whether I am rich or poor. I feel healthy and whole inside even if my body is suffering and sick.
To follow the LORD Jesus, then is to ground my life in the practice of what is spiritual and eternal, absolute and real. I am not grounding my life in an argument over God as an idea. I’m not living in an internal climate of the soul whose weather patterns are always shifting between self-righteousness and anger. I am living now in the peace and wholeness of Jesus’ healing and life-creating commandments. Now I’m giving myself to what is beyond me. I am coming into an immaterial light that shines from within, illumining the impenetrable darkness of my deep heart to reveal to me the living God, not as an idea but as the really real in whom I am now beginning to become real by doing His commandments.
So, how do we follow this Jesus? Perhaps you have observed in yourself what I have observed in me: when I set out to follow Jesus in the resolve to do what He commands, I do not go very far before I come upon a deep-seated resistance to doing the will of God. I have come to that wall of enmity constituted of my greed and idolatry, that cuts me off from God. I now begin to experience of that ‘law of sin’ St Paul talks about; and I can see that St Paul is right: this law of idolatrous greed has become embodied in me, incarnate (Rom 7:23). And now, I come into view as the rich young ruler in this morning’s Gospel.
But, dear faithful, understand! We have not taken a wrong turn! This is the critical juncture in our soul that we must come to if that wall of enmity deep within us is to be destroyed so that we can pass over into the peace of Christ to become a new man in God.
I am therefore caught by the fact that St Paul says that the wall of enmity has been destroyed not in my flesh, but in the flesh of Christ; that it is in Him, not in me, that a New Man has been created who is one with God. For, this tells me that I by myself cannot destroy that wall of enmity and pass over into the peace of Christ to become one with God. That wall of enmity can be destroyed only if I am in Christ and Christ is in me; for it is not I but Christ who destroys that wall of enmity in me. But, the LORD cannot destroy that wall of enmity in me if I do not make my own our all-holy Virgin Mother’s: “Be it done to me according to Thy will!”
If my consent is not to be in vain, as St Paul says to the Corinthians, I must work with the LORD who is now working in me that I, in Him, might become myself the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21-6:1). As I understand the Church’s teaching, we work with the LORD by doing regardless of our feeling. For example, I incline my mind to practice justice and mercy regardless of how I feel. In this, I actively unite my flesh—that is, my actions—to Christ in whose flesh that wall of enmity that has become embodied in my fleshly members and whose foundation is imbedded in my deep heart, is being destroyed.
So, when we come upon that enmity against God and others, when we come upon our greed and our idolatry that cut us off from God and from even our loved ones, and we find ourselves looking at the rich young ruler in this morning’s Gospel as in a mirror, this does not mean we have made a wrong turn. We are precisely where we should be: at that wall of enmity, those idols, that greed that must be destroyed if I am to enter the Peace of Christ’s Holy Pascha and become one with God!
So, what do we do? We do not go away from the LORD in sorrow. We stay there at His feet and we cry out with the disciples who say to the LORD in so many words: “LORD! I can’t do this! How can I be saved?” This morning, we hear the LORD’s answer, who says to us in so many words: “With you, to be saved is impossible. Only I can save you! Therefore, follow Me. Do what I tell you to do as far as you are able, and where you are not able, you cry out to Me: ‘LORD, I can’t do this!’ And, if you do not turn and go away from Me in sorrow, I will do it in you; I will save you—so long as you stay with Me!” So long as we stay in His flesh, in His Body, in the Church, in Him!.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen.