What Do We Want?
The rich man of Matthew 19:16-26 frightens me because I am like him in so many ways. Not because I’m rich: and make no mistake when it comes to material things I have more than I need. But because I have the same attitudes as the rich man. I want a list, I want a legal document that I can present at the pearly gates that says “admit one.” I think in my mind that I am well when I know in my heart that I am sick.
The rich man is not evil, he wants to do the right thing, but he thinks eternal life is a commodity instead of a living relationship. Look at how the rich man approaches the one who is the source of what he is after. It’s very analytical and calculating. What good thing shall I do to have eternal life? Keep the commandments…. He asks which ones with the comforting knowledge that from his own perspective he has kept all of them. Then our Lord who knows all of our hearts says go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then there is more, and come and follow me. The rich man was not prepared for that answer. It made no sense. In that culture which is much the same as ours being close God is connected with material happiness. Success in life and wealth are considered as blessings from God. The rich man wants to do more for God, but according to his own will, without being disturbed or leaving his comfort zone. Just like the rich man we really do not want to follow Christ. It’s not that we think following would be so hard, it’s the idea that we will not have any say in what that following will look like.
Money is not the issue for many of us, but it can be and it was for the rich man.
So what is Christ talking about? He is asking us; what do we live for? What fills our heart? Clothes, looks, money, popularity, power, a 30% off coupon?
What our Lord is asking is for us to renounce our selfishness and our own desires in order to better serve the Kingdom and each other. It can have a positive implication: sharing our talents and all that which has been given to us by the Lord; it can have also a negative implication: rejecting our idols, rejecting our pretenses and our most popular obsession, me.
We all want to follow Christ or we wouldn’t be here together. We come to Divine Liturgy, we pray we worship, we give our time and we give our money. All of these things are good but what our Lord wants is our entire being. What he has given us is His entire being.
The question is what do we want? And what are we willing to give for the thing we want?
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The eye of the needle was a low gate to the city and in order for a camel to get through, it had to be completely unloaded of its burdens and then crawl through.
The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. I never understood what that scripture meant until I was introduced to the practice of asceticism.
Our journey to the kingdom is a constant struggle and demands our participation. It is one thing to wish and to want, and quite another to really live the Gospel. In order to really live the Gospel there is not just one thing that we need to do as the rich man found out. For us to following Christ is a way of life. We are occupied with healing the diseases of the soul. We are concerned with uprooting the passions and replacing them with virtue. Saint Gregory Palamas says that it is possible to be free from all the passions by choosing to do so and leading a life of spiritual discipline. I wish I could tell you it will be easy. God has endowed our souls with the power of free choice and self-control. He gives His grace to those who earnestly ask for it, because without His grace we can do nothing.
In order to win these battles, (the war is already won) we need to understand how the enemy works. St Gregory says the beginning of a passion inside of us comes from evil desire. The first offspring of evil desire is love of material things. This is manifested in a number of deceitful ways. The second offspring of evil desire is vanity. This is manifested in some in the form of concern for outward beauty, in others conceit, for most it’s both. A third offspring is gluttony. From gluttony comes ever kind of carnal impurity. All of the passions have their initial source in the mind or the nous. So how do we struggle against these illnesses? Our thoughts determine our lives..And as you may have already guessed there is not just one cure. Prayer, humility, fasting, and obedience are the main weapons, but without the sacraments, worship and a desire for a living relationship with Christ these things will only result in the washing of the outside of the vessel.
It is hard to keep Christ’s commandments, to do good all the time, and to be perfect. The process is difficult but not impossible. This is why we are here; this is why Christ established His church. To not only preach the Gospel, but to live the Gospel. To work hard, to make sure that His grace towards us is not in vain. So let us lay aside everything that would hinder us from Christ. How do we do that? We lay aside those things that come between us and Christ by working at laying them aside. Come to confession, as often as you need to. Become integrated into the sacramental life of the church, come to the services. Begin a rule of prayer, increase your rule, ask our Lord for his help, ask the Mother of God for her help ask the saints for their help. Ask each other for their help. And what are we asking for? To give ourselves totally to God. With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Image courtesy of George Lascar.