12th Sunday After Pentecost
In today’s holy gospel, a man comes up to our Lord and asks, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This must be the question for each of us… ‘What must we do to inherit eternal life?’
Our Lord reviews the commandments of God… Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, etc. And Christ finally sums it up by saying that ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’. Elsewhere in the Gospels Christ similarly summarizes all the commandments as boiling down to ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy neighbor as thyself.’
We must remember one thing and we must transform our lives according to this one thing: we must love God above all else and we must treat our neighbors with love. It is as simple as that. And it is as challenging as that.
There is no higher calling than God’s call to love; and if we can fulfill it – or, with God’s help, at least be striving towards it - then all the other commandments, canons, and rules of conduct and piety fall naturally into place. You don’t judge, or harm, or insult, or try to get the better of someone you love. You seek to console, protect, and see all good things for those whom you love. What a different world we would live in if mankind lived by this Gospel commandment. You and I may not be able to change the world – and besides that, ‘the world’ is an abstraction. Christianity is always personal, not abstract. We can change our lives and the lives of those around us if we do our very best to live Christ’s commandment of love.
Now the young man in today’s Gospel declared that he kept all of these commandments. What else did he lack? Christ, the Great Physician, knew precisely the medicine needed for this particular soul and he told him that if he would be perfect, he should go and sell all that he possessed, give it to the poor, and follow Him.
This cut to the heart of the particular passion that weighed this man down: while he zealously kept the commandments, he suffered from an underlying love of possessions. And it was too much for him… the Gospel says he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.
How tragic! But before we dare to judge this young man, let us ask ourselves… what particular passion of ours might Christ pinpoint if we were in this Gospel scene? Perhaps it is laziness, perhaps it is the love of comfort, perhaps it is some sensual sin, or pride, or our desire to be in control, or fear, or something else. All of us have one or more particular anchors that weigh us down in our spiritual life. In addition to striving toward that love of God and neighbor that draws us forward, we need to identify, humbly acknowledge, and work to root out our particular ‘anchor’ – that thing that might cause us to walk away sorrowful from the Lord’s invitation to follow Him.
The way into the Kingdom of Heaven is by the narrow gate... it can be like threading the eye of a needle. If we continue holding on to those many passions and anchors, we burden ourselves with a load that will prevent our ability to enter through that narrow gate. Those sins and passions that we jealously hold on to become our personal camel that will not allow us to pass through the eye of the needle.
But Father, you may say… I have been trying to conquer my particular passion for years! Every time I come to confession it is the same list of things over and over again! I’ll never win!
Yes, you’re right. As the Apostles cried out in today’s Gospel: ‘Who then can be saved?’
Christ looked upon them with compassion, just as He looks upon you with compassion and He says: ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
You and I are called to struggle courageously to take up our cross, to deny our self and to follow Christ. We must seek to shed ourselves of anything that gets in the way between the love of God and our ability to receive that love. That is hard work. It requires humility and honesty to admit our sins and it requires persistence and patience to stay the course in working to root them out of our lives.
And the fuel and the motivation that should drive our zeal is nothing other than love for God.
We will not persuade God to love us more if we are successful. We will not earn our salvation if we are successful. The fact of the matter is, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we will not be successful! The sooner we can figure this out, the better.
‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
Our priority and our focus must be on the love of God. We strive courageously, not because we will be victorious, but out of the abundance of our love for God. We strive courageously because in doing so, we reduce our attachment to our passions, and we unite ourselves to Christ. And this is the point… Christ is the victor over sin. If we unite ourselves to Christ, we enter into His victory, we enter into His crucifixion and His resurrection. And this is our salvation!