Both the epistle and gospel readings for today talk about what we must do, about the moral life of a Christian. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.” At the same time, both readings touch on our inability to obey the commandments fully. Did the young man observe all of the commandments? In the literal sense, perhaps – but probably not in their perfected sense, as interpreted by Christ in the sermon on the mount. For example, Christ explains that it does not suffice simply not to kill – rather, one must refrain even from anger without cause. (Matthew Chapter 5) But we are comforted: “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” We are enjoined to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Sin encompasses us, death and corruption reign in our members, but through Christ’s incarnation, sacrifice, death and resurrection they are defeated, and it is up to us simply to “receive with meekness” that which has been given us. We cannot save ourselves – we are too weak, too far removed from God. We cannot do good in our corrupted state. As the prophet Jeremiah says, (I paraphrase), just as a leopard cannot change his spots, so we cannot do good, being habitually sinful. But God’s Word is able to save us by changing us, by uniting us to Himself and abiding with us. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We need only desire to change, and make an effort to lay aside the “filthiness” of our old self and be conformed to the image of Christ. The power to do so will come from Him.
James Chapter 1:
“Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
Mark Chapter 10:
“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.