The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:18-27)
Perhaps the most important question that a human being can ask is this question that is posed by the man who came to test Jesus in today’s gospel reading. He asks “Good Teacher, What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The Lord before responding has a question of His own, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Many have misunderstood this passage and it’s meaning. Some believe that Jesus is telling the man that He is not good and not God, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ is trying to raise this man’s awareness and attention. Because if you know that the one you are asking these questions to is in fact God in the flesh, you will certainly pay very close attention to what He tells you.
But this question that the man asks the Lord is powerful and life giving! It has immense potential. Perhaps it is the question that we should ask ourselves every day of our lives? “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” After all, we ask many questions, but how many of those questions have eternal and lasting significance?
And it is important to note that the Lord gives a very predictable answer. He is not rewriting the book. He isn’t abolishing the Holy Scriptures. He is rather, bringing them to life. When He is asked how to inherit eternal life He points to the ten commandments. “Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is never seen complicating but simplifying our spiritual life. Nothing is complex in the Christian life. Obey the commandments. That is the foundation of the Christian life. But in our world, even what seems simple and uncomplicated is made complex because we don’t live straightforwardly but we live in a sinful culture and society. Our world is turned upside down by our disobedience to the commandments of God and by our prideful willingness to test and tempt and challenge God to find all the loopholes to behaving like a Christian and a child of God. We claim with our lips that we want to be close to God, but God sees our hearts and what we really believe.
However in this particular case in the gospel, this man believes that he has kept the commandments perfectly and therein lies the problem. Scripture tells us that there is none without sin, no not one. We are told that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Even if we live only a day on the earth, we would sin because this is the condition and disposition that we inherited from our ancestors.
The man believes that he is perfect in keeping the commandments and he has pride in this perceived accomplishment and that is why what happens next is so important. Our Lord Jesus Christ gives this man a difficult word, a life-giving instruction. Whenever the Lord speaks words of correction to those that He loves, He challenges them. He gives them life through the word of correction. This is why the reading of the gospels coupled with active repentance is so extremely integral to our spiritual development. Because God loves us, He gives us life giving medicine, and sometimes medicine goes down with difficulties. Sometimes the medicine is not sweet but bitter. Yet this is what is often required for us to come back to sanity and health.
Listen to the words of St. Anthony the Great who writes “The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”
By this definition we should ask ourselves if we are truly intelligent men and women or if we are less than intelligent. The man in today’s gospel took pride in his keeping of the commandments but the Lord saw through his talk, straight into his heart. The Lord found a sort of spiritual cancer hidden there and He was determined to shine a light on this and expose it and cut it out of the man. Yet, as is so often the case, the healing requires our participation. We have to work in synergy with God to receive full healing.
So whenever the Lord offers us a way out, and healing, He does so without imposing His own will on us. He gives us the prescription and offers us a place on His operating table, but He doesn’t tie us down or force us to choose what is best. But the fact remains that God will often test us to see if we are truly willing to do whatever it takes, to make serious sacrifices of our own will in order to know Him more deeply.
In the case of the man who tested the Lord, the Lord offered him true freedom and the chance of a lifetime. How many of you would have followed the Lord if you were given the chance that day? Perhaps not as many as we think. Why? Because the Lord tests the hearts of those who claim to desire Him. He looks to see what they truly love and the law of Christ is that you cannot serve or love two masters. At some point in your life you are forced to choose and that choice is of necessity painful if our hearts are divided or if we worship false gods. St. Maximos the confessor writes “The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.”
May we each love and pursue Christ with everything of our being, because He first loved and pursued us, and this is our only path to life.