Sermon for the 12th Sunday After Pentecost
The gospel reading we heard today about the rich young man is such a pertinent reading for us today in this greatly prosperous time we live in. In this teaching given to us by the Apostle Matthew, a rich young man comes up to Christ to ask him, what can he do to inherit eternal life. After all, who wouldn't want to be able to have life everlasting without death, suffering, or any worldly cares? And Christ tells this man to follow all the commandments of God, such as not murdering, not lying, and honoring one's parents. After hearing these commandments, the man responds with almost a proud-like answer: "All these things have I kept from my youth up" (Matthew 19:20). Many of us hearing this would think that he is acting with great pride and even possibly being a bit snobby. However, the Gospel of Mark, which also relates this story, adds a very important detail (and this detail is only present in the Gospel of Mark). After the man says that I have kept all these commandments, it says that Jesus "beholding him loved him" (Mark 10:21). By adding this small detail it seems to show that Christ saw through this man and saw that he was probably being truthful in his actions. By keeping these commandments this man seems to be a great example for us as Christians.
However, this man had just one passion that was holding him back from being able to inherit eternal life. Christ knowing all things was able to see in the heart of this young man that which was holding him back from paradise. The passion holding him back was the love of worldly possessions. This is precisely why Jesus instructs the man to give all that he has to the poor. And yet this man unable to let go of all that great wealth was unable to follow God, and walked away with great sadness in his heart. These possessions he had, possessed his own soul and made him unable to realize his full potential. After all, he was a faithful man, he kept all the great commandments of God. But the care about the things of this world was his ultimate demise.
The disciples seeing this were puzzled. After all, in the Old Testament Church, having wealth was a sign of great blessings from God. Those who had riches were seen as being the elite of that time. They were the ones who were truly faithful to God and God blessed them with great wealth. And at the same token, the rich were also the ones who were supposed to be the first to inherit the kingdom of heaven. How could it be so? Why were the poor the ones who were blessed and not those with great possessions.
Yes wealth is a blessing from God. This is attested by the Church as well. But having great wealth is also a great responsibility and we will be judged based on what we do with our wealth. As we hear from the Gospel of Luke: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48). And this is why this Gospel reading of the rich young man is so important to us today, because unlike 1st Century Jews, much has been given to us. Many of us today probably have middle-class wages which makes us much more wealthy than the rich young man. Even wealthy people in his time had to worry about starving if their crops would not provide enough food, or if their animals died. For us, we just have to go to the grocery store and all our needs are taken care of. Many wealthy people would get sick and that was it for them, their life was over. But for us, we can go to see a doctor and are able to get great medical care. The wealthy in the first century would live in fear of bandits robbing and destroying their livelihood, whereas today we live in an overall pretty safe society. There are so many great blessings given to us, great wealth, and amazing quality of life. And yet, are we any better than the rich young man?
St Isaac the Syrian says: "He who is master of possessions, is the slave of passions. Do not estimate gold and silver only as possessions, but all things thou possess for the sake of the desire of thy will". Everything we have been given is given to us to be able to do good with it. Do we have a large house? Then we should invite those who need a place to stay to stay with us. Do we have an extra car? Maybe we should give it to those who do not have one. Do we have the latest smartphones, and all the best gadgets? Maybe we should instead buy them for someone else, or use the money to support our Church. The poor are all around us, we just have to open our eyes. There are so many who have lost all they have in fires, we should be the first as Christians to help them. A great priest that I know says "you cannot take any of that wealth with you to the grave, it all remains here." So let us therefore use what we have for good and have only what we need because that is what will give us the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
I remember hearing a story about a poor young married couple who lived off of only 90% of what they earned. The rest they gave to the Church and to the poor. Over time, they had acquired great wealth, but they still lived off of the same amount that they lived when they were poor, which eventually ended up being on about 10% of what they earned. And the 90% that they had in surplus? They gave to the Church, or helped those in need. This is a true example of what we should strive to be. Live off of only what we need which actually ends up being very little if we think about it. The rest we should be helping those who are in need and especially the Church God. This way, we will be not like the rich young fool, but rather we will be a true follower of Christ.