13th Sunday of Luke
In today’s Gospel, we are told that “a certain ruler questioned [the Lord], saying, ‘Good Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit eternal life?’.” Although both the ruler’s form of address and his question were appropriate, he approached the Lord with a worldly mindset. This is why the Lord replies, “Why callest Thou me good? No one is good except one: God”. In other words, the Lord is saying, “You are right to call me good, since I am God, but why do you call me good when you approach me as just one teacher among many?” With his answer, the Lord is trying to lift the ruler’s mind from a mundane to a spiritual way of thinking. The same is true of the ruler’s question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” With his question, the ruler — a very rich man — was not seeking to enjoy the eternal presence of God; he wanted to know how he could remain eternally in this world, in the comfortable life he was enjoying here. The Lord guides him to the commandments of God in the Holy Scriptures, again trying to elevate his way of thinking.
When the ruler still does not understand what the Lord means, saying that, “All these I kept for myself from my youth”, the Lord replies, “‘Yet one thing is wanting to thee: sell all, as much as thou hast, and distribute it to the poor’ … And after [the ruler] heard these things, he became deeply grieved, for he was exceedingly rich”.
The truth is that we too often approach Jesus in exactly the same way. We acknowledge his divinity with our words, we call him God, Lord, Christ, but with our gaze firmly fixed on earth. We say, “Help me!”, and ask, “What must I do?”, but what we really seek is not the will of God, is not the Kingdom of the Heavens, but how we can find worldly contentment and fulfilment here.
Moreover, when the Holy Scriptures speak of the rich, the word “rich” does not just refer to someone who has a lot of money, but rather to the person who is attached to money, the person who places his hope in riches, who believes that what he has is his own to spend on himself. All of us, therefore, could potentially be called ‘rich’ by this Biblical definition, in the sense that we are all capable of this attachment to worldly riches that prevents us from entering the Kingdom of the Heavens. Therefore, when the Lord says that, “it is easier for a camel to enter through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, don’t think he isn’t also speaking of me and you.
There is one interpretation that suggests that the Needle’s Eye was one of the gates into the Old City of Jerusalem, and that this gate was so narrow that, in order for the camels to squeeze through, the merchants had to unload everything the camel was carrying. Now, I don’t know if that is historically accurate or not, but it does nonetheless provide us with a very appropriate image.
“Narrow is the gate…that leadeth away to life”, says the Lord (Matthew 7:14). In order to pass through this narrow gate to the Kingdom of the Heavens, a person must unload everything he is carrying, all passions, all pretentions, all worldly attachments. “Riches do not survive nor does glory follow us”, as we sing at the funeral service. The only thing we can take with us are the virtues which we cultivate by following the commandments of God and by actively showing compassion and love to our neighbour, which is what Christ calls the rich ruler to do when he says, “Sell all, as much as thou hast, and distribute it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and keep on following me”. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg