Like everybody else, people who are religious, who are in touch with the sacramental life of the Church, want continuous improvements in their lives. So they devote themselves to bettering their standard of living and to acquiring material goods for themselves and their nearest and dearest. Most of them, though, don’t want to forget God, and continue to observe the Gospel commandments.
But a danger lurks here: people might start thinking that the wealth they have accumulated is a sign of God’s favour towards them. That’s what they thought in the time of the Old Testament. And even today, notions like this are held by many Christians, such as Protestant confessions which interpret the Old Testament according to the letter. There are even those who think that, just as their wealth can provide a host of material goods, they can ensure the salvation of their souls through financial power.
It would seem that this was roughly what the prominent citizen in today’s Gospel extract (Luke 18, 18-27) believed. He approached Jesus and asked Him what he should do to gain eternal life. But the Lord, Who reads people’s hearts, realized what the man was about. So when he addressed Christ as “good”, Jesus would have none of it and told him that God alone is good. In other words, He realized that this person didn’t see Him as God, but as a human being Who would justify his choices for him. That’s what he wanted and that’s what he sought from Christ. He wanted the conversation to be overheard and for everyone present to know that he was righteous and had guaranteed his salvation.
So when Christ told him to follow the commandments of the Law, he felt relieved. He said he’d never violated them. But it’s not impossible that this was because of his secular power. He may well have been so comfortable that he’d never had the need to violate one of the ordinances of the Mosaic Law. Indeed, some interpretations of this Law provided for the possibility to “buy off” some of one’s religious obligations.
This is why the Lord added that the man was lacking something. He told him he had to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The words of the Lord made the man very sad, because he was exceedingly rich. It’s quite clear: God demands everything of a person. He wants people’s souls, devoid of the self-interest of this life. The rich man makes his decision straight away: he prefers earthly goods to eternal life. He’s not prepared to forego his pleasures in favour of what had, but two minutes before, seemed to be his overriding interest.
Immediately afterwards, Christ explains exactly what is at stake. It’s very difficult, if not impossible for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. These people are so tied to their wealth that they’re unwilling to give any of it up, even for such an enticing prospect. Those who were listening became aware that attachment to material goods is a danger that affects everyone, rich and poor alike, and quickly asked Him: “Who, then can be saved?”.
But our merciful God will not leave anyone in despair. He loves His creatures and won’t allow them to be lost. He wishes to live with them eternally, and this is why He consoles them: what people can’t do alone, they can achieve with the love of God. So don’t concern yourselves with your goods and don’t boast of your virtue. Keep your hope in God and His love, and all the rest will be taken care of by Divine Providence.
by Metropolitan Barnabas of Neapolis and Stavroupolis