Christian eternal wealth

Homily 484 – 30th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 16, 2022
Epistle: (258) Colossians 3:12-16
Gospel: (91) Luke 18:18-27

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

I frequently talk about the free will God has given us, in order that we might love. This morning’s Gospel reading is the best example of the respect for that free will we have in the Gospels, in my view.

We don’t know much about the motives of this ruler. We aren’t told if he was sent by the Pharisees to try to trap Jesus or not. Perhaps this ruler was quite sincere in his question. Or perhaps the question was an attempt to get Jesus to tell him what a wonderful example of a faithful God-fearing Jew he was.

Maybe some mix of all of that – most likely a mix of all of that.

Blessed Theophylact, in his commentary on this passage, notes that the evangelist Mark presents the ruler running to Jesus and prostrating before him, and implies that the question asked was sincere.

Theophylact also says, in my words, “Yes, I know that the great Chrysostom believed the man to be sincere.” And Theophylact himself indicates his belief that yes, the man was sincere in his question, but also was desperate to hold onto his wealth.

Theophylact’s quote is “the man is a lover of money, and he approaches Jesus eager to learn how he, along with his wealth, might inherit eternal life.”

The next sentence is fantastically telling – quote – “For there is no one who loves prolonged life as much as a man who loves money.”

In Theophylact’s opinion, this man thought that Jesus offered eternal life so that the man might enjoy his possessions forever.

How many of us have that view of eternity? How many of us have a vision of heavenly existence that is, in essence, a never-ending lawn party, with beautiful weather, bountiful food, and drink, surrounded by everyone we love?

We spend eternity going from mansion to mansion in some sort of eternal progressive dinner, maybe even led by Jesus.

So, in that vision, where is God? God is really nowhere to be found – perhaps an afterthought. In that vision of eternity, our focus is on ourselves, our enjoyment, our pleasure.

Beloved, God wants us to forego those things. Give them up. Not to make us miserable – Theophylact recognizes that also. He states that the ruler, should he give up his possessions, thought, “why would I want eternal life if it would be as a poor person?

So, God wants us to forego those things not to make us miserable, but because what He offers is immensely more.

More what? More everything! More joy, more pleasure, more comfort, more love – more than anything creation in its present state can provide to us.

And then the man went away. He made a choice – and the Lord respected that choice. And we also have a choice to make. Will we go with this ruler into disappointment?

Christ tells us that nothing – nothing – can come before the love we have for God. No desire. Nothing.

Not wealth, or power, or status, or the pursuit of these things. Not even family. That’s the difficult part. We cannot love God and mammon – sometimes mammon means wealth and prosperity, but to me, mammon signifies the things of this world, this life, not of the Kingdom of God.

The ruler wanted both. He likely ended up with neither. We can’t have both.

Our purpose for wealth is completely different than the purpose of the world. The world tells us to use our wealth to take care of ourselves, our family, our children – and not just take care, but to be extravagant with ourselves.

Deny ourselves nothing – a belief that is reinforced every single day, consciously and subconsciously, through the advertisements that permeate and bombard us constantly.

We can’t get away from it. Literally. So our struggle is to see our resources differently. In fact, we should quit thinking of things as ours. We must see everything as owned by God, and placed in our trust to steward for Him.

We live simply – as simply as we can. The excess we gift to others. Theophylact points out that we should not just give, but distribute. He puts more intent behind that word “distribute”.

The quote is “distribute not to your rich relatives, but unto the poor.” Done with discernment.

Often we think “I need to take care of my family, my children, so that they can have nice things and an easier life.” But is that indeed true? Is that what God expects of them? Is that given for their comfort or their salvation?

We give those we love the ability and discernment, the love, to make good decisions and to follow Christ. Do they need more?

No. We do better when we give them the spirit of love for God, love for neighbor, and to believe that everything in their surroundings is not theirs, but belongs to God.

We give them, in this way, the same thing we seek for ourselves. We give them the ability to prevent themselves from being attached to the things of the world, just as we struggle to become detached.

Then they have a great advantage! They are freed from the chains which bind this ruler, and which bind us. Give this wealth to our families and children. Give them the example of generosity, the example of not possessing anything, but rather holding everything in trust for the poor.

So that we may find eternal life, and learn to truly love God. And in so doing, receive everything.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.