And a ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, He said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Luke 18: 18-27 (13th Sunday of Luke)
Today’s Gospel account from Luke 18 is also found in the Gospel of Matthew and is read towards the end of summer each year. Today’s account from St. Luke is usually read sometimes towards late November. The passage is just about the same word for word. But as with many Scripture passages, one can read the same thing over and over again and take away a different meaning. Hence today’s reflection will be different than the one on the Gospel account of the “Rich man who went away sorrowful” from Matthew that we discussed a few months ago.
There are two thoughts that jump out at me from today’s reading. The first is that there is a great temptation in the church to “check boxes”, to go for the “form” over the “substance.” It is possible to do lots of Christian things and not believe in God. For instance, coming to church, putting money in the tray, lighting a candle and reciting the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t guarantee that one is a Christian. These are all tools that help us worship but to be a Christian requires belief, faith, and action.
The man in the Gospel lesson desires to have eternal life, and he desires to know exactly what he has to do in order to get it. Jesus tells the man what the Law requires, basically reviews the Ten Commandments with him. The man tells Jesus “I’ve done all those things.” Basically, “I’ve checked all those boxes.” Jesus then tells the man, “One thing you still lack. Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18: 22) The man then became sad, because he was very rich. Jesus touched a nerve with him. He challenged the man to not only check boxes but to become vulnerable.
In order to attain eternal life, one has to love God. And in order to love, one key ingredient is vulnerability. The man, it seems, had no problem keeping all the commandments. At least, according to him. Truthfully, he probably had some problems with some of them. We all do. Jesus, however, gave him the benefit of the doubt, and accepted his statement. However, Jesus challenged the man, to dig deeper, to be vulnerable, so that he could grow in love, in faith, and in his journey to salvation. And sadly, the man could not accept the challenge. In our Christian life, we have to remember that it’s not just about checking boxes, but about being vulnerable to God, and to others—this builds love, which builds faith, which leads to eternal life.
The second thing that jumps out at me from the Gospel passage is the difficult time the man had parting with his money. Coincidentally, this Gospel passage is read each year in the heart of stewardship season. Most churches either just had, are having, or are about to have their annual stewardship drive. This isn’t going to be an exhaustive expose on stewardship, but I wanted to make a brief comment on our stewardship of treasure, our financial offering to the church.
In the ideal church, all expenses would be paid from the financial offerings of the congregants. The congregation wouldn’t be forced to have a festival or a golf tournament or sell pastries to make ends meet. People were not raised knowing how or why we give money to the church, and so this has led to lack of understanding, lack of giving, and a great level of cynicism when it comes to “giving my money to the church” or wondering “what is the church doing with my money?” Like the rich man in today’s story, this understanding of giving sees our offering as checking a box. To truly give means to divest interest and control. We are to see ourselves as stewards, not as shareholders. Giving should be sacrificial. Why? Because nothing worthwhile in life is not gotten through sacrifice. Think of this example—what makes your college degree valuable? The years you spent attaining it. You know the sacrifices that you made in order to get that degree. If someone just gave you the degree, you wouldn’t have the joy, the appreciation or the respect you have for it. In working our way toward salvation, it comes at a price. There IS sacrifice involved. Christ sacrificed for us, in enduring the crucifixion, in order to open the gateway to salvation. We are supposed to sacrifice for Him, in many ways, including sacrificial giving to support the work of His Church.
When we see what we have as ours, it is hard to give away what is ours. When we see what we have as a gift from Him, it becomes easier to give back to Him a portion of what He first gave us. The man in the story today had a hard time letting go of any of his riches. He couldn’t sacrifice. He wanted to give what HE considered a worthy gift, not what the Lord challenged him to do. When it all comes down to it, we are supposed to not just check boxes, nor give only in the way that is comfortable to us. We are supposed to show vulnerability, in the way we live, and in the way we give. Because vulnerability is what leads to love, love is what leads to faith and faith is what leads to eternal life.
Lord, even if You stood on trial and suffered Pontius Pilate to be Your judge, yet You did not leave Your divine throne, seated with the Father as You are. And when You rose from the dead, You freed the world from servitude that was imposed on it by the Devil, O Compassionate who love mankind. (First Resurrectional Praise, Plagal 4th Tone, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
As you consider what you will give back to God this year, think about vulnerability, love, faith and salvation. And don’t just check boxes—go to church and worship (not watch), open your heart in prayer (don’t just say the words) and give in a way that stretches your comfort zone.