By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Sermon given at a Sunday Liturgy, November 2016)
In todays gospel we see a young man running up to our beloved Jesus and kneeling before him and asking him: “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Or in other words “Good teacher what do I need to do to be saved? What do I need to do to go to heaven?”
This brothers and sisters is a brilliant question, an excellent question. The young man that ran up to our Lord, and knelt before him deserves to be commended, as he truly had a great desire and thirst, to know the one thing necessary. To know the one thing needful. “How to spend eternity with our beloved Lord Jesus and attain our salvation”.
This brothers and sisters should also be the one question that we ponder every day. “How am I to be saved?” This question is extremely important for each and every one of us. “How can I be saved?” Are we also eager like this young man to run up to our Lord Jesus and kneel before him and ask this blessed question? We should be extremely willing to do so.
Let’s see what the Lord tells this young man. The Lord says: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. In other words our Lord Jesus is saying: “If I Jesus am only a good teacher, as you say, and thus am only a mere human being, then as a teacher and mere man, I myself must also be a weak sinner. Thus if I’m only a teacher and only a mere man, you cannot call me good, as no man can claim they are good. Even the most brilliant teachers are sinners and thus in need of salvation, thus no one is good except God.”
But of course we know that our beloved Jesus was not only a “good Teacher” But He was the Almighty Word of God, Incarnate, become Man for our salvation. The sinless Lamb, that takes away the sins of the world. Thus He is All-Good. He is truly the All-Good God-Man that came to give us life.
Moving along our Lord Jesus says to the young man: “You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,’ “Do not murder,’ “Do not steal,’ “Do not bear false witness,’ “Do not defraud,’ “Honour your father and your mother.” I’d like us to have a brief look at one of these commandments.
Do not commit adultery.
What does this mean? By definition adultery means having sex with someone else, other than my husband or wife. It means cheating on my partner sexually with someone else. But does this command merely mean, not to have sex outside of marriage? No, it means allot more. Our Lord Jesus made this clear when He said “he who looks at a woman, and simply lusts for her in his mind has committed adultery with her in his heart”. So even lusting for another person, without any physical action, is adultery.
But are these the only forms of adultery? No brothers and sisters. The bible is clear in teaching us that when I love the world. When I love my car more than God, my money more than God, my home more than God, or anything in this world more than God, that this is spiritual adultery. Why would loving my car or money be considered spiritual idolatry? Because brothers and sisters as the Church of Christ we are His Bride. We are the Bride of Christ, he is our Groom. And we are all hoping one day to be married eternally with Him and become one with Him in His kingdom.
So if I as the bride of Christ, cease to give Him all my heart, if I don’t love Him, my beloved Groom, with all my being, and instead give my heart to money, give my heart to this world; then I’m committing adultery against my beloved and beautiful Lord Jesus, who suffered so much for me, all the way to the cross, so that I can be His bride for all eternity. Do not commit adultery then means, to not give my heart to anything else except our beautiful Lord Jesus.
In a similar manner the other commands, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and your mother, all have a much deeper meaning than what we can take at face value. Time does not permit us to analyse each command, one by one, but from what has been said so far, by simply looking at the first command, we can see the young man did not understand the depths of these commands.
The young man responded to Jesus saying: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” As a young man, could he honestly say he had not lusted for anything? Never lusted for a woman, for money, for power. Can he say he never got angry at someone, and thus committed murder within his heart? Can he say he kept his heart completely pure before the Lord? This is impossible brothers and sisters. As our Good Lord said earlier, “no one is good but God”.
This means all people have fallen short of the perfection we are called to, through Jesus our Lord. So clearly when the young man responded saying: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” He was actually mistaken. He had not kept these commands. He was a sinner in need of salvation like everyone else. Let us see what the gospel tells us, our Lord Jesus does, after this statement from the young man.
The gospel continues by saying: “Jesus, looking at him loved him”. Jesus loved him. Jesus didn’t get upset with him for thinking himself to be righteous, for thinking he had kept the commandments without spot from his youth. But instead Jesus loved him. How beautiful, how sweet, that even in our weakness, the Lord loves us, as he loved this young man. Even though we have not kept the commands and are all weak and sinful, the Lord loves us.
But the Lord didn’t just stop here, but continued by saying: “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
One thing you lack. This sounds like Jesus is affirming the young man’s statement, that he had indeed kept all the commandments. But it’s not the case brothers and sisters, our Lord knew this young man’s soul and knew he was a sinner and needed salvation like everyone else. The one thing he lacked, was the one thing we all lack. The one thing, that if we overcome, we likewise will be able to take up our cross and follow the Lord.
Let’s look at this sentence and analyse it further. “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
Does this imply we need to also sell everything, all our possessions and give to the poor, and follow the Lord?
Some indeed have taken this call to heart and followed it quite literally. We hear in the Life of Saint Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism, that it was this sentence from the gospel: “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” that made him sell everything he had, distribute it to the poor and make His way into the wilderness to make war with his passions and the devil.
But let’s be real, not all of us are called to be monks and nuns. Many are called to married life, and indeed many of us here today are already married, possibly with children. Thus we can’t literally sell everything and give it away as we need to provide for our families. St Paul tells us in the First Epistle to Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
So it’s a command that we have a roof over our heads for our families and work hard to provide for them. Does that mean I can disregard this command because I can’t follow it completely in a literal sense? Of course not. Although I can’t follow the command completely in a literal sense, I must obey it in a spiritual sense.
So what’s the spiritual meaning in this command by the Lord? This one thing we all lack, and that if we do we will be able to pick up our cross, and follow the Lord unto eternal life. Well, simply put, it is divorcing our heart from it’s attachment to this world, tearing it away from its love of this world and being joined to Christ as His bride.
Practically speaking it means genuinely loving God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my body and with all my strength, to love God with all my being and my neighbour as myself. We can all strive to do this while being married and living in the world. Indeed we are all called to do this.
In the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans 13:9, St Paul tells us: “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,”“You shall not covet,”and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
So if I love my neighbour correctly, if I’m crucified in my self sacrificing love for neighbour, then I have fulfilled the law, I have fulfilled all the commandments, including the one the Lord gave to this young man: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
In the First Epistle of St John 4:20, St John tells us: If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
What this tells us brothers and sisters, is that the measuring stick for my love for God, can be seen in how much I love my neighbour. We cannot say we love God whom we cannot see, if we don’t indeed love the people whom God has made, whom we see every day, and have in front of us each day, to love and to serve to the best of our ability. Jesus said that if we fulfil this command, we will take up our cross and follow Him. In other words we will be images of Christ to this world, who carried the cross for all us and all mankind.
When we also copy Jesus and live our lives for others, as Jesus did, and serve everyone, like Jesus did, and love everyone without judgement, as Jesus did, then we are also copying Him in carrying our cross. This carrying of the cross, this crucifying of our ego and selfishness, to really love and serve the Lord all and all people, will allow us also to enter His kingdom.
It’s this selfless and sacrificial love for God and for all people, through Jesus living example, and through the Holy Spirit that He has given us, that will be the measuring stick for wether we live spend eternity with Jesus in His kingdom. So brothers and sisters, will we follow this command? Will we each look at our own lives today and see how we can give more of ourselves in service to the Lord?
I encourage every single one of us today to approach Abouna, and ask him: “Abouna, I want to serve, I want to be like Jesus, I want to give Him my time, give my life to Him, as He gave His life for me.”
In doing this brothers and sisters we take the first step, in giving ourselves to Jesus. We take the first step toward eternal life with our beloved Lord. We pick up our cross and follow Him, and hear Him say: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
The Gospel today challenges us to either divorce the world, and give our heart to the Lord, and pick up our cross and follow Him, or go away sorrowful like the young man from the gospel. What will we choose? The world, or Jesus?
Glory be to God forevermore, amen.