The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (19:16-26)
A young man came up to Our Lord Jesus Christ and he asked Him a very important question “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are often so used to hearing these gospel stories that we take them for granted and fail to recognize just how amazing they are. This is an example of one of the amazing interactions and conversations that were a regular part of the life of Jesus Christ. This is not a trivial question at all. It is really really critical. Of all the questions that one could possibly ask of the Son of God, this is definitely among the most important. Indeed, this is among the most important questions that one can ask period. But why? Because this questions reminds us that this current life is passing away and yet there is the possibility of more to come.
One of the stumbling blocks of our modern society is the way that we hide death away from general view. We would like to believe that death doesn’t exist. The world wants you to believe that death doesn’t exist. The world wants you to believe that only this life matters. The world wants you to believe that whatever you do in this life matters only here and now and does not affect us later in the afterlife, primarily because the world denies the afterlife. The world and the philosophies of the world tell us to do whatever is pleasing to us. They tell us to go after pleasure and be wild and free. However there is a problem. No one is really free when they are subject to the bondage of sin which leads to death. And if when we die, we have to stand before God and be in His presence, we are left wondering how that experience will be for us if we are not slaves of God but slaves of sin. Will it be an experience of eternal darkness or eternal light? An experience of eternal joy or eternal sorrow? It is our spiritual condition that will either help us or hinder us at that very moment when we face the Lord.
So this question by the young man is really quite fantastic. It is a question that could change the course of each of our lives. If I start every day in prayer and ask this question “Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that means that I am a mature Christian and I see my own life in a healthy and developed way. I understand that I belong to Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We were baptized into the name and the identity of Jesus Christ. The Christian who wants to live a fruitful and joyful life lives his life oriented towards his master, towards the One who redeemed his life. He or she can no longer live like the rest of the world because we have already died and been reborn in baptism. We already live with our eyes facing heaven and with one foot in the kingdom. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is the correct question to guide our lives. But asking the right questions is never enough. The teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ always force us to backup our desires with a heartfelt response. The young man claimed to desire one thing but the answer of the Lord proved that the young man’s desire was not serious. Christ replied to the young man “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” This first part of the answer is interesting because the Lord doesn’t say “if you would enter eternal life..” He simply says “if you would enter life..” This means that life itself is found in the keeping of the commandments of God, starting with the Ten Commandments. If you are confused about your purpose and direction in life, one place to start looking for answers is the ten commandments. They are a roadmap to a vibrant, peaceful and purpose filled life. More than that, some of the fathers tells us that obedience to the commandments helps us to grow in knowledge of God Himself.
However the Lord goes further when he is pressed to do so by the young man. The young man claims to have kept all of the commandments perfectly and so he asks “what do I still lack?” That is a frightening thing to ask the Son of God. It is frightening because He will respond and we may not like His response because His correction is like a life giving surgery that removes a tumor. Our tumor is sin. The Lord Jesus replies “if you would be perfect, go sell what you posses and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”
Imagine that you are presented with an opportunity to become one of the disciples of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry? How much would we give for an opportunity like that? How much would be have given to have unfiltered access to the Lord, to watch His ways and His miracles, to hear the teachings of His blessed mouth? There is not treasure on earth that could possibly outweigh such an honor. This was the invitation given by the Lord Jesus Christ to this man, yet the man chose the things to which he was attached, the things to which he was enslaved. Whatever keeps us from growing closer to God, that is what is sinful in our lives. For this man, it was the thought of losing his things, his material wealth, that kept him from growing closer to Christ, from knowing Him intimately, from serving Him and being honored as one of His disciples. When the young man went away, the Lord responded “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich man enter into the kingdom.”
What keeps us from growing closer to Christ? What keeps us from knowing Him more intimately? Each one of us is invited to ask such difficult questions as we pray and seek the face of God. Only we have to also accept that the Lord will answer our difficult questions with difficult answers our of His great love for us and His desire to heal us and see us restored to full life. It will not be easy, but God knows our hearts and He who conquered death and destroyed the devil can make it a reality in our lives because He is compassionate and is abundant in mercy.
St. John Chrysostom writes “ after Jesus had made eye contact with them (the disciples), he said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” So with a pleasant and gentle look, he soothed those whose hearts were terrorized and relieved their anguish (for this is what the Evangelist meant by “looking at him”). Then he uplifted them with his words as he focused on the power of God, and thus he gave them faith.
If you also want to learn the way and how the impossible becomes possible, listen. He did not make this statement that what is impossible for man is possible for God merely so you could relax and do nothing and leave it all to God. No, he said this so you could understand the importance of calling upon God to give you help in this rigorous contest and that you might more readily approach his grace.”
And glory be to God forever AMEN.