The risks of wealth and power.
Homily 444 – 32nd Sunday After Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 17, 2021
Epistle: (250) Colossians 1:12-18 and (335) Hebrews 13:17-21
Gospel: (91) Luke 18:18-27 and (24) Luke 6:17-23
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
The question the young ruler asks has always been intriguing. What is going on there? What is the motivation for the question?
Does this young ruler offer Christ a genuine question? Was he trying to trip Jesus up, like the scribes and Pharisees? Maybe trying to flatter Christ by calling Him “Good Teacher”?
Part of me thinks there is an ulterior motive in this case. Kinda like the guy is really fishing for a compliment.
“Good teacher, tell me how good I am.” The reason I tend to think this is the nature of Christ’s response. He really disarms the question – “Why do you call me good?”
Then He continues – you know the commandments. In essence, Christ says “What is a ruler of the Jews asking this question?”
In my imagination, the ruler asking the question doesn’t quite get that Jesus is disarming Him. He maybe puffs up a bit and tells all around that he has been following the commandments since he was a child.
At this point, in my imagination at least, Jesus likely sighs, looks down and tells the hard truth.
It is a truth that we also have to hear. Don’t be attached to the things of the world. They distract us from the important things in life.
In the case of this man, his wealth was distracting him from salvation – which is eternal life. And the ruler went away sad. Note that the advice didn’t change – the bar wasn’t lowered.
The pursuit of perfection is a difficult thing. Like the camel through the eye of a needle. Now, many people say well, the needle’s eye was actually a small gate in the city of Jerusalem. This originated, from what we can tell, in the 15th Century.
Perhaps it was – I think there is some debate. And to me at least, the response of Our Lord was telling. People said, “well, that is impossible!” But Christ responded, with God, all things are possible.
So I tend to take the position that Christ was saying, in no uncertain terms, don’t hold on to this world, or you won’t be able to grasp the next one.
What we hold on to doesn’t have to be wealth. It can be a lot of things. Power, fame, social standing – all of these things can be harmful, even deadly, for our eternal salvation. But – it can go either way.
You know, these things aren’t all bad – they can be for our salvation, or for our condemnation. It isn’t necessarily in having these things, but rather in how they are used.
If our wealth is used to support the Church, and the Church is supportive of the poor and those without other support, then the riches can be for the salvation of the one who stewards them. Not owns them – for we own nothing in this life. If we owned it, we could take it into the kingdom with us. But we don’t.
If our power and influence are used to protect the helpless, to give hospitality to the foreigner and immigrant, to provide food for the hungry – then it can be a good thing – a holy thing.
But if we use the things of this world selfishly – it is spiritually deadly. It leads to spiritual and eternal death, not eternal life.
We have to let go. Few of us are called to sell everything immediately, give it to the poor, and become a monastic. But all of us are called to do whatever we can with what we have to benefit and care for those in need.
For St. Anthony, whose remembrance we celebrate today, it was a call to immediate monastic life. He had lost his parents at the age of twenty. He had a younger sister to care for.
And yet, about six months after his parent’s death, he heard the reading from the Acts of the Apostles about how the people would sell everything they owned and give the proceeds to the Apostles for the needy.
Then, upon entering the Church, he heard this gospel passage – sell what you have and give to the poor, and come, and you will have treasure in heaven. He heard that call and decided it applied to him.
And that is what he did. He placed his sister in the care of pious nuns in a convent. He sold all the possessions and distributed the wealth to the poor. And he headed off to the wilderness.
We don’t really know how old his younger sister was. There is a lesson there, too. Those that we are given charge of are still in God’s care. We trust the Church to do what the Church does. The responsibility we have is still ultimately God’s to enable.
And that is what St. Anthony did. He fulfilled his responsibility to his sister, and to God.
Now, I’m sure we don’t have to leave the world to find eternal life and salvation. In fact, I’m reminded of the monk that felt they were no longer growing spiritually and asked God to lead them to someone more holy that they could emulate.
He was led into the city, where he was shown two women working. He asked the women about their life. Their answer was telling.
They prayed. They loved and supported their husbands. They taught their children to love God and to follow Him. They didn’t gossip but prayed for everyone. And they did this all the time.
So from that, we understand that we can emulate one another. That we don’t have to be monastics. We just have to follow Christ, and only Christ, in everything we do.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!