We always come around to this Gospel lesson (St. Luke 18:18-27) more or less at this time every year, sometime in December, before Christmas. By now, the Christmas carols (Andy Williams is one of my favorites) are continuous on several radio stations, as are the ‘spots’, the commercials, urging us to visit some retailer or other, to purchase yet another unaffordable and unnecessary luxury item as a present… to ourselves presumably.
How much better to get wisdom than gold! (Proverbs 16:16)
The pace becomes almost frenzied. Our parishes should all be so lucky as to have their parking lots as full as the malls’! Our attention is diverted to the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’ or, worse yet, to ‘the cherry on top’, when it is the bread of life, vital, yet supernal, that we need. People, what in the world are you looking for? Are you looking for an answer to a most important, perhaps the most important, question? Well, the ‘certain rich young man’ in this Gospel Lesson was!
“Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Who, or how many of us, would ask this question? In the current pace of life, we do not seek an answer to this question - we don’t even ask. In spite of our ever advancing technological masteries, it is doubtful that today we possess the spiritual sophistication to contemplate or worry about this matter of eternal life. It is said that soldiers of the legions of ancient Rome were told to remember death, as they would, like each and every one of us must, and shall, die. Prayer, absent from the public schools; malls, open and full on Sunday morning, while church attendance declines. It’s too much ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ and ‘Jingle Bells’, and not enough “Ding dong! merrily on high … Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!”
“Why do you call Me good?...”
Before actually answering this man, Jesus, interestingly, sets rules of engagement, as it were. Jesus denies Himself the attribute of good, stating that it belongs to God, the Father, alone. Jesus is setting a precedent for the inquirer and for us, for indeed, ultimately, the answer lies in denial of self and of possessions. Confirming that he has done well to this point, Jesus elaborates: “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
“... let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”
We end our litanies with this admonition, yet how many of us actually commend ourselves to Christ our God. By the looks, or sounds, of it, easier said than done! Do we really deny ourselves anything? We’re probably looking for ‘loop-holes’, or childishly whining ‘’Do we have to?’ Needless to say, the rich young man, ‘...when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.’ Would we be any different? Indeed, ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ No wonder Jesus states “... it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Who then can be saved?”
I’m not acquainted with any materially wealthy people, yet we’re all rich, in the sense that we all have what we need. Nevertheless, no matter how much, or how little, we have, I don’t see anyone ready to take the plunge, or the leap of faith to take the Lord at His word: “... and come, follow Me.” Yet, thanks be to God for all things. In spite of the improbability of the camel making it thru the eye of the needle, all is not lost because this passage concludes with Jesus answering “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
When you think about it, the events of this holy season all seem impossible with men, and as such, are swept away and replaced with frivolous stand-ins, reality replaced with the imaginary: Season’s Greetings in place of Merry Christmas (let alone Christ is Born); Mickey Mouse in Santa suit, Santa Claus as ruddy, portly delivery-man, in place of the genuine St. Nicholas, who, in spite of his family wealth, heeded Christ’s call, gave it away and followed Him!
That’s the point! St. Nicholas and other saints were real. Jesus Christ is real. Indeed, Christ is born, and lives yet, extending His arm and hand, inviting each and every one of us to true discipleship, to deny ourselves, to pick-up our cross daily, as it were, and to follow Him.
Isn’t time we all get real too?
Fr. Oleh Hucul,
Holy Ascension Parish