Homily 384 – 24th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 1, 2019
Epistle: (221) Ephesians 2:14-22
Gospel: (91) Luke 18:18-27
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
The lesson of the rich ruler offers a sobering reminder that our belongings tend to enslave us. That much is pretty obvious.
The difference between what we have, what we want, and what we need is staggering at times. Even to the pious ones.
This ruler was an obedient follower of the Torah – the Law. He kept the commandments. He was observant.
His life in the resurrection to come was pretty safe. Until he Christ told him that one commandment he hadn’t kept. He was selfish and stingy.
That wasn’t particularly unusual, then or now. The things we possess, those things are ours to enjoy. The fruit of our labor, the harvest of our fields.
We work hard. We deserve things – we deserve an easier life, perhaps. We deserve the comforts that wealth can bring. We deserve it because we worked for it.
We worked for it.
That is a deception. We worked, for sure – our labor was involved. But anything we have, beloved, is from the hand of God Himself. As many of you know far better than I, as humans we can encourage growth, we can tend to growing things.
We can reshape, create tools, but we cannot create out of nothing. We cannot cause growth. Only the Creator causes growth, only the Creator causes creation.
To be sure we can work with God and contribute to creating. We can take material – texture, color, sound – and reform them into things that delight, things we call beautiful, if only small things.
No human can match the beauty of the Creation. The mountains, the beaches, the deserts, the stars. It is from God.
Same with work. When Adam was expelled with Eve from the Garden, the Lord told him that he would need to labor – not that God would abandon them, but that the harvest would require work, and the tilling of the soil would require effort.
God would still provide the seed – and the growth. It would still be God’s gift, God’s provision, for us.
When we see things that way, it makes life easier for us. Because it isn’t ours, it is easier to be thankful to God for what we have. Easier to do what God commands with what we have.
God tells us – all of us – here, take of my abundance. Then He tells us to share it with those around you.
He doesn’t tell us to condition that offering to those who are like us – who believe as we do, who act as we act.
The Old Testament, which this rich ruler said he followed, commanded that the stranger be provided for, even if that stranger didn’t follow the Law.
Those who are not of our tribe are to be given what they need – food, water, shelter – the same as a family member.
No strings attached. God gives it to them, through us. What Jesus doesn’t come right out and say explicitly is that if the commandments were followed, there would be no poor among us.
Some may have more than others – but all would have their needs met.
This is how God describes His kingdom all the way back to Moses and those he led out of Egypt, wandering in the desert. They would receive only enough for that day.
Apparently one generation living day by day by God’s hand in the desert wasn’t enough to drive that message home.
Don’t misunderstand here – God wasn’t really issuing a command, as much as he was describing how life worked in His kingdom. So if you wanted to live in the kingdom, this is what it would involve – this is what it would be like.
Same with this rich ruler. Christ said let me show you how the kingdom works. Give away or sell all that you have. I will provide for you. Follow me.
I will provide for you – you don’t need any of the things you have accumulated. Some worked hard and were blessed with abundance. Others worked hard and obtained nothing.
Those with abundance should share with those with very little.
But – critically, a “but” – throughout the recorded Scriptures God never compelled anyone to follow this rule.
The ruler, in another account, went away distressed and disappointed. Jesus allowed him to leave. Jesus would, like the father of the prodigal son, be there waiting to welcome home those who left.
The promises would be sure and certain, regardless. The promises would be there waiting for our return.
That is life in the Kingdom. That is life as God intended. We can choose to live that kingdom life now – or not. If we don’t live that life now, we will at some point have to return of our own free will.
Or, we will perish of our own volition.
Repent – return – for the kingdom of God is here, now.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!