St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
161 N. Murphy Ave. Sunnyvale, CA 94086
34th Sunday After Pentecost

What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?

Luke 18:18-27

In today’s holy gospel, a man comes up to our Lord and asks, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This is a good and an important question! ‘What must we do to inherit eternal life?’

In answer to this question, our Lord reviews the commandments of God… Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, etc. And the rich ruler responded that he had kept all these things from his youth. We can see from the scrupulous care which he gave to following the commandments of God, and from the question which he asks of Christ, that this man is a good and pious man… desirous of the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus heard his reply, He responded: ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’

Christ, the Great Physician, knew precisely the medicine needed for this particular soul.

Asking him to give away his material wealth cut straight to the heart of the particular passion that weighed this man down. And it was too much for him… the Gospel says he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.

What a tragic scene… for here was a man who clearly desired the things of God and yet he could not make that complete surrender, that death that was necessary to bring him to resurrection.

And Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, acknowledged how difficult it is to give up that which binds us, that to which we cling - in this man’s case, his great wealth. Christ said: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’

The same may be said for any of those passions which may have us in its grip. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a judgmental person to enter the kingdom of God. Or for a lustful person, or for a selfish person, or for whatever passion possesses us and would cause us to turn away sad because we feel we can’t give it up.

Those who heard Christ’s statement then asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ …to which Christ replied: ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’

And so, you see… even though this rich man goes away sad, he is not condemned. There is still tremendous hope being offered by Christ. What is impossible with man is possible with God.

And Christ says the same thing to each one of us.

It is very sad, but I think it is very easy for us to identify with the rich man from today’s Gospel. Isn’t it true that each one of us struggles with some particular sin or temptation that continually ensnares us? Just like the rich man in today’s Gospel, we may do our best to follow the commandments of God, but if Christ were to judge us, He would surely say: ‘One thing you still lack… give up that habitual sin, that thing that continually weighs you down.’ Perhaps it is our pride, our judgment of others, our laziness, our passions… We should ask ourselves - what sin of ours binds us and prevents us from following Christ as we should?

Overcoming those sins and those things which anchor us to the earth is difficult, but we must always remember Christ’s words: ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’

It is very easy to become discouraged by those sins that weigh us down. Our Christian struggle can seem overwhelming at times and the effort required to keep vigilance over our bad habits can sometimes exhaust us. It is therefore important for us to maintain a balanced approach to our spiritual life. On the one hand there is the struggle to abstain from all that we should not do. This is our spiritual warfare and it is an important part of our Christian life. But on the other hand, there is the encouragement and guidance of all that we should do. This too, is part of our spiritual warfare… having the inspiration and the determination to do what is right and pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.

This is expressed so beautifully in the Epistle which we heard today. Listen carefully to the hopeful instruction given by the Apostle Paul: ‘Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’

It is such a bewildering thing… all Christ asks of us is a perfection of love. If we would but love God and love one another: ‘putting on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, forgiving one another’… these things are the bond of perfection and against such everything needful for salvation is fulfilled. It is so simple, yet it is almost impossibly challenging for us.

While we may share with the rich man in today’s Gospel some shackle that ties us down, let us not go away sorrowful. For Christ promises that what is impossible for man is possible for God. Fight against those persistent sins, give it all you’ve got out of your love for God. But keep your trust in God for Whom nothing is impossible. Set your focus on those good things of God – faith and hope and love, seeking first the Kingdom of God, for if we do, all things will be added unto us.

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