The Rich Young Ruler
The main points are about hidden passions, ignorance
About God and self and, yes, money too
12th Sunday of Pentecost
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Brothers and sisters, we should take care. There might be some hidden passion in us that keeps us from the Kingdom of God.
We may try to follow the Commandments; we might fast; we might pray; we might do good works in many ways, in many things, but we might have something we hold onto that is ungodly that keeps us from the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the main story here today, about the rich man when he asks the topic that involves money and commandments.
But the take-home story is that there might be something wrong with you that you are not aware of.
It is hard to be aware of our sins. The rich man was blinded to his great passion, which much of humanity shares with him. It is a rare person who does not have some touch of avarice, of clinging to money, perhaps of using money for things that are not so useful. Most of us, would shudder a little bit when we hear of this rich man’s passion because all of us struggle also with giving all things to God.
But this rich man, this young man — a ruler, he was called in another Gospel story, and in yet another Gospel, it was said that Jesus looked upon him and loved him — was a good man, by the definitions of “good” for people. But he had a hidden passion. He made two great mistakes when he spoke to the Lord. They showed he had two vast wells of disinformation in his soul that kept him from being perfect.
The first was when he went to the Lord and he says, “Good Master, what good thing should I do?” And the Lord rebukes him. “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.”
Why did the Lord say this? Because the man looked upon Jesus only as a good man. Jesus is not only a good man; Jesus is God and therefore He is good. But he saw Him as a man. Good indeed. But only God is good. All goodness comes from God. The young man did not see God as He is.
If we do not see God as He is, how can we be saved? That’s why the Church has so zealously guarded the good name of God,
the Holy Trinity and all aspects of the understanding of the God-Man Jesus Christ, Christology. That’s why there were arguments made over fine points and, in one case, even one Greek letter. Because we must believe God as He is. If we don’t believe in God as He is, then what are we believing in?
In addition to making dogmatic mistakes with God, such as not understanding the Trinity in the proper way, or God-Man Jesus Christ in the proper way, but we can make also mistakes in how we think of God.
The Psalms, and Proverbs, mention in several places that the sinner thinks God is far away. Just because we don’t see Him, it doesn’t mean He is far away. And which one of us finds it easier to sin when we are alone than when we are with someone? That shows that we do not have the proper view of God, Who is always present and always sees.
This young man did not have the proper view of God. Dogmatically, he was certainly correct. He followed the Commandments. He probably read the Law and knew it well. But he did not know God well, Because his passion kept him from Him. So that is the first great mistake the young man showed us, that he did not look at God as Who He is.
We should question ourselves, do we do this? I would have to say, knowing humanity as I do, since I am a human, knowing the weaknesses of the flesh, every one of us should resoundedly say, yes, I look at God in the wrong way.
And just that example I showed a minute ago — where we can sin when we are alone, but the same thing we would not do in the presence of someone else because of shame or because we don’t want them to think of us poorly or some other thing — shows us that we do not think of God in the right way.
So we share this mistake of this young man. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit it. And by admitting it, we can start to fix it.
And then the young man made another great mistake. So the Lord says, Keep the Commandments. He says, Which? And the Lord gives him a subset of Commandments. And then the young man says, all of these I have kept from my youth up.
One of the commandments the Lord referred to was about loving your neighbor. The young man was rich; he must have seen poor people. Did he help these poor people? Perhaps to some extent, but he still kept his riches. Could he honestly say that he was concerned about God’s creatures more than his money? It does not appear that he kept the Commandments perfectly. And besides, just the first thing he said to the Lord showed that he did not keep the Commandment of “Loving the Lord your God, with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind”, because he did not even look at God correctly.
So this man did not keep the Commandments, and he thought he did. The Fathers say that this was a man who truly wanted to be saved, who truly was earnest in his questions. He wasn’t trying to trip up the Lord or anything by these questions. He wasn’t trying to be clever. He was truly seeking help, seeking knowledge for salvation. But he had a great abyss of ignorance in his heart that he didn’t know that he did not follow the Commandments. So he didn’t see himself honestly as he is. This is a common problem.
Which one of us would dare to say that we know ourselves as we are? Which one of us would dare to say that we are aware of all of our sins, all of our failings, all of our passions? Of course not. And yet in essence this is what the young man was saying and this is what, let’s be honest, we say to ourselves, not verbally, but in the way we live. There’s so much that we are unaware of. There’s so much that passes under our radar. We don’t see them because we are blind.
Our blindness comes from not following the Commandments. Intelligence comes from doing good. So the more good we do, the more we follow the Commandments, the more intelligent we become about good and about evil, about the good that is in God and about evil that is in us, and we make a change from that evil to becoming perfectly good.
Over the course of time, this young man had two very serious problems that we share with him. He didn’t look at God in the right way. And he didn’t look at himself in the right way.
All of Christianity, all of the exercises we do are so that we can look at God in the right way and ourselves in the right way. If you do not know what’s broken, you would not try to fix it. There’s a lot that is broken in us that we do not see so we do not try to fix it. And also, we do not look at God in such a way that we have enough fear in our heart that we would desire to do the Commandments at all times whether they are difficult or not, whether we are alone or in a crowd.
Now, this young man had a particular passion, though, that not everyone shares, although it is probably true that most of humanity struggles with the passion of dealing with money and dealing with God. The young man loved his possessions. He followed the Commandments as best he knew them, not knowing that he did not totally follow them, because he had a hidden passion.
So the Lord tells him something: “If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”
Sometimes this Gospel makes people uncomfortable because they’re thinking, then I guess I shouldn’t have a second car or I shouldn’t live in a house; I should live in a smaller house or I should do this or I should do that. That might be the case if you have this passion. But this is a commandment to the man because of his particular problem.
Now, let’s be careful now. It’s not like we don’t share in this problem to some extent. We might be able to say about some sins that we don’t share in the problem, but let’s be honest. This is about money. And sometimes money takes up much more of our efforts and our time and our priorities than it should. But this man particularly was enslaved by the passion of riches. And so the Lord gave him a very extreme measure: Sell everything, give it away.
This is like when the Lord says, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. It is better to go into the next life with one eye than into Heaven with one eye than into Hell with both.
If riches totally overpower you, pluck them out.
If you are consumed with becoming a certain position in your job and you find yourself walking all over people to do it and you find yourself lying and misrepresenting yourself and participating in the dirty politics and everything else, then it would be better for you if you were to quit and go and sweep the streets. Because you’re going to go to hell as you rise up the ladder if that is your passion.
If you’re full of pride and always want to speak out about things, then it would be better for you to become mute even if you have something good to say, if that is your passion.
Whatever your passion is, extreme measures must be taken to become rid of it. If it is riches, then do what the young man did. If it is pride, or lust, or laziness, then do something extreme to be rid of your passion.
I must give a caveat here. We must be careful. Sometimes we can do extreme things that are really nothing but foolishness because of our pride. You have to test yourself. You know, you have to seek counsel.
Here is a small example. Someone might say to me, ‘I want to fast on Mondays for the angels.’ I say, ‘Well, how are you fasting now? Do you fast from oil?’ ‘No, that’s really hard.’ ‘Okay, fast from oil first on Wednesdays and Fridays, not just olive oil but all oil, really do it strictly.’ And I find that usually I don’t get them asking me if they can fast on Monday, again. Because oftentimes we don’t even follow the Law as it stands, but we want to do more. So we have to be careful. We have to use wisdom and discretion.
But definitely root out of your soul ruthlessly your passions because this is what the Lord is saying to the young man and to us, but this is not the main story today.
The main story is that we don’t look at God in the right way, and we don’t know ourselves correctly.
We have hidden passions, and they might devour us if we don’t do something about it, and we might be unaware of what they are doing, like a cancer that grows within us and we’re not aware of it until finally it has grown to such an extent that we are near death. That is what our passions are like, brothers and sisters. And yes, you should consider yourself every day to be in a crisis. Every day is not like just every other one. It is not just Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday. Every day is a battle, a battle to become good, a battle to uproot your passions. It’s true.
I think it’s scary to people. That’s why it isn’t talked about enough. That’s why what passes for Christianity in the world, sin doesn’t get talked about anymore because it’s a scary subject. It’s the kind of subject that when you say something, then everybody is uncomfortable because they don’t want to talk about the kind of people they are.
But we Orthodox Christians, must have to have courage. We have to take the Lord at His word, at His brutal and honest word.
We must root out of our soul passions and give ourselves no quarter. Do it with counsel. Do it with help, with confession, with seeking wisdom from others. Don’t do it on your own. But do it ruthlessly. There are things inside you that want to kill you and they’re not resting. So we can’t rest either.
We must be as the young man should have been, as the Lord taught him. We must look at God in the right way. We must seek out to know ourselves in the right way, and we must seek out and destroy our passions.
Now, it’s a tall order. It’s difficult. It’s frightening. It’s not pleasant at all. But as we become good, as we change in our nature, then there is great joy. There is no greater joy than to have peace in your heart. And peace is only possible when we are like the One Who gives peace and we are good.
So let’s battle as the Lord taught us to battle. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.
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