And behold, one came up to Him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19: 16-26 (Twelfth Sunday of Matthew)
Today’s Gospel account appear in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. So important are its points that both Gospel accounts are read on Sundays each year—the account from Matthew is read towards the end of summer and the account from Luke is read usually in late November.
We are not told in this reading where this conversation took place, or what the tone of voice was that Jesus was using. When I try to think what this conversation must have been like, I envision Jesus and this young man sitting under a shady tree. I envision the man genuinely interested in talking to Jesus, not trying to cynically trip him up. I imagine that the tones of this conversation were mild, there was no screaming and yelling. Again, this is just my imagination, maybe they were out in the sun, the young man was cynical and voices were raised.
However it happened, the man approached Jesus and asked what He needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told the man to keep the commandments. Obviously, at the time, the Jewish society was shaped by and large by the Ten Commandments. And Jesus was certainly endorsing them. He highlighted several of the commandments that the man should be keeping.
The young man proudly proclaimed that he had kept them all. And then Jesus said to the young man “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Many people have conjectured whether Jesus was being judgmental in this statement. I believe that Jesus was being compassionate to him. I believe that Jesus looked into the young man’s heart and told him that his riches were his obstacle to attaining the Kingdom of God. Jesus wants all of us to attain His Kingdom, and so his telling to the young man what he was lacking was an act of compassion, not judgment.
When Jesus said it was easier to a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, He wasn’t meaning that riches would keep us out of God’s Kingdom but that unique things that trip each of us up are the things that will keep our of the Kingdom.
If I were to seriously examine my life, I realize that there are MANY things that I am lacking, not just one. In fact, what I should probably do is make a list of things that keep me from God and from being the Christian that He wants me to be, then prioritize the list and start working with one and then proceed to the rest. May I suggest that you do the same.
I don’t think we should hear today’s Gospel as “There goes Jesus, slamming the rich,” because I don’t think Jesus was “slamming” anyone. We should read the Gospel as Jesus speaking with compassion to a young man who sincerely wanted to attain the Kingdom of God and had some serious concerns as to whether he was on the right path. I’d like to think that perhaps after he reflected enough on what Jesus said, that he realize “Hey, He’s right” and made some changes.
No one likes to hear about their imperfections. This is why we rarely ask people “What can I do better,” because any answer to that question will make us know that not only we have deficiencies but that they are recognized by others. It is pride that keeps us from asking the question, and pride that will keep us from heeding the potential answer. One thing the rich man should have had was a little bit more humility. He did ask the question of Jesus, someone he obviously respected, of what to do to inherit eternal life. It’s too bad he didn’t have the same humility in carrying out the answer to his question that he had when he posed it.
The question the disciples pose to Jesus after this whole incident “Then who can be saved?” must have sounded like a desperate question. Jesus’ answer, however, is very soothing: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God meets us, even in our imperfections, and when we work in concert with him, our rough ways are made smooth through His grace, and what seems impossible (salvation) becomes possible, through His grace, our efforts and our faith.
At Your Divinity’s immutability, and at Your suffering’s intentionality, amazed was Hades, Lord, and thus lamented to itself and said: I tremble at this human frame’s uncorrupted hypostasis. I see the invisible One waging war on me secretly. Hence those whom I am holding are crying out: * Glory to Your resurrection, O Christ. (First Resurrectional Kathisma of the second set, Third Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make a list of the thing or things that you lack when it comes to relationship with Christ and with others. Prioritize them. Start working on improving them.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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