Within our Ukrainian Orthodox parishes in this country we find so many that have parents, grandparents; or both, who have immigrated to the United States. They came to a land they lovingly called America the beautiful and America the richest nation on earth. They passed down to their children and grandchildren their strong work ethic, that in order to be successful; you must work hard and earn it yourself. Many of us consider ourselves financially better off than what our parents and grandparents were and that we truly are proud to be living in the richest nation on earth. While this may be true, we must be careful in our thinking that we do not “build” ourselves up too much. We must be careful and not get too caught up in “ourselves” and proud of the fact that we have accumulated so many “riches” on this earth. If we do, we need to remember the Gospel lesson this week regarding the rich man and the Kingdom of Heaven.
As Christians we are called to be Christ-like people who are expected to follow the Commandments not to steal, or bear false witness, or defraud anyone, etc. Some individuals think that just because they are Christians and “religious,” this will get them into Heaven. At times, isn’t this true of ourselves? We sometimes think that just because our yearly church dues are paid up and we are in good financial standing that this automatically means that we are a member of the Heavenly citizenship. Furthermore, we think that if we learn the catechism or we have been baptized and attended Sunday school as a youth, or if we have given our time in the food projects and worked the bake sales and festivals; that surely we will get to Heaven.
In the Gospel lesson we read that when the rich man told Jesus that he'd kept the Commandments since his youth, Jesus looked at the man and loved him. The implication was that Jesus loved this man for his sincerity as well as for his good deeds. Then came the turning point of the lesson: Jesus explains that the rich man lacks one thing in order to get eternal life: "Go, sell what you own, and give your money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; then come, follow Me."
The rich man is shocked. We may be shocked as well. "What!" we might be thinking. "Sell everything we own? That's what's required to follow in Jesus' footsteps? Really? How can we possibly do that? Can't we just keep our wealth, but make sure that we are following all of the 10 Commandments all the time?" After reading the Gospel lesson further, we know what the man ended up doing. He went away: "He...went away grieving, for he had many possessions." He didn't follow Jesus.
At the end of the Gospel lesson, beyond the point where Jesus explains that, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God," the Disciples challenge Jesus at this point, asking who then can actually be saved. Jesus responds by saying, "With man it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." Here it must be emphasized that God is love and that Jesus came with a special message of love. He lovingly paid the price for our salvation so that we may get eternal life.
Earlier in the Gospel lesson, Jesus had looked at the rich man and loved him. Not just for what the man had done, but for what he was trying to do. Presumably Jesus already knew that this man wasn't ready to sell everything and follow Him. Jesus loves him anyway. The rich man had not gone away angry, like many others who didn't like Jesus' answers throughout the New Testament. The young rich man had gone away sad. He was sad because he knew he was putting his own accumulated wealth before God. The man not only had money—there is nothing wrong with having money—but he loved it; and he loved it so much that it prevented him, at least at this moment, from entering into the kingdom of the Heaven.
The rich man had come to the right person, asked the right question, got the right answer; but ultimately made the wrong decision. That is true. So we need to ask ourselves, that even for one moment, do we think we can get to Heaven by the “good” things that we do. The answer is “No!” We must remember this Gospel lesson and recall this rich man and his encounter with the Lord Jesus. We must understand and know that no man can get to Heaven by the things that he does or has “accumulated” in this life. We must examine our own mind and conscience and our hearts. We must acknowledge our own sinfulness and dependence on all of the things we gathered for ourselves. Then we must be thankful for the free gift of salvation that we have received that comes by virtue of the expiating work that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross for us. We might ask ourselves who then can be saved and receive salvation? We can be saved. We can hopefully find our salvation. We may not fully understand and comprehend this because our “riches” are preventing us from understanding. This is when our Lord spoke that, “By God’s grace, what seems impossible to us, is possible with Him."
Fr. Mark Swindle
Holy Virgin Parish, Arnold, PA