Sermon – Twelfth Sunday of Matthew 2020
The Twelfth Sunday of Matthew
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
August 30, 2020
The rich young man in today’s Gospel sounds like someone who asks a question seeming to know the answer. He is like the student who proudly plays innocent and asks a question of his teacher to be gratified by having known the answer; or did he?
While the young man in the Gospel at first sounds as though his intention is spiritual, he views eternal life as something that is earned or as that which he himself can acquire. I good translation of verse 16 reads in his question the word: Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?
St. Matthew’s account seems to demonstrate that the proud young man wanted Jesus to acknowledge his righteousness. “Keeping the Law” (commandments) is something that he is very proud of accomplishing. And while the fact is that no one of us has perfectly kept God’s laws, the young man is very confident and self righteous.
The man in today’s Gospel is also called a “rich young man.” The Pharisees, in Jesus’ day believed that God rewarded good people with wealth. It was with this in mind that our Lord was very emphatic in saying: it is hard [very difficult] for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The young man was driven by his materialism not unlike many in today’s world who are well trained to aim for profits and material gains. However, it must be said that being successful or wealthy is not in and of itself a sin. There were many saints who were rich people, i.e., St. Helen, St. Elizabeth. However having wealth can be sinful if the means of one’s acquiring wealth is unholy, such as by stealing or extortion. It can also be sinful if what one does with his wealth is unholy. And on this subject, St. John Chrysostom has had much to say. I would recommend for your library the book “On Wealth and Poverty” by St. John.
In a few weeks we will hear the challenge to “take up our cross.” It is part of the Gospel of The Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. This challenge is heard in St. Matthew’s Gospel and precedes the verses which read: What good (profit) will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. As we hear in the Liturgy of St. Basil who quotes verse 12 of chapter 20 in the book of Revelation: …and He shall come again to render unto every man according to his works…
“Eternal life” is something we often think of as reserved for the righteous. And our human experience in this life, especially if it is filled with struggles and difficulties, can cause some of us to think of an eternal existence as exhausting. We have a sign in our office that says: “God put me on earth to accomplish a number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die.”
Having had no experience of what life after death is like can cause our imagination to run wild. On the other hand, many of us prefer to think only in terms of our life here and now – thinking only in terms of what we know are sure and certain of.
The Gospel teaches that eternal life is a gift to every living person: both to the righteous and the unrighteous. We hear it clearly stated in the lesson of the Funeral Service of our church:
…for the time is coming when all the dead in the graves will hear His voice, and they will come forth: Those who have done good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who have done evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear I judge and my judgment is just; because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me. (John 5: 24-30)
Now a simple reading of this passage can cause you and I to think that our reward is based upon doing good with the material goods that we have. Well, “doing good” pertains not only to the use of our material possessions. It begins with what we say, and how we spend our time such in helping others. It may also include speaking the truth in love to someone, or remaining silent when what we want to say may in fact hurt someone.
Very often we may also think of “doing good” in terms of writing a check or giving something away. But what many of us must begin doing, especially in our day of “safe-distancing” is to remain actively engaged with others, especially those who are dear to us. If you have difficulty with any of this, always remember: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Yes, that treasure includes our time and energy; our thoughts and our prayers. Because for many us “time means money,” we could even consider how where we spend our time can be certainly where our heart is also.
We have much more to offer others than just providing a hand-out. Many people need us, our presence, our words of encouragement, and our time. Children need the time of their parents. The elderly need the time of their children. The married, need the time of their spouses. The single person needs to spend time with God. Today it is very easy to be detached from others. While in fact, being “distant” did not begin with the rise of the COVI-19 pandemic. People have been distancing themselves for a long time. However, the Gospel message repeatedly speaks of our becoming “detached from the world”.
[St. John Climacus] Avarice [the “love of money”] is said to be the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10), and it is so because it causes hatred, theft, envy, separations, hostility, stormy blasts, remembrance of past wrongs, inhuman acts and even murder. A fire can burn down an entire forest. But one virtue can help many to escape all the vices mentioned above.
If someone has hated [forsaken/abandoned] the world, he has run away from its misery; but if he has an attachment to visible things, then he is not yet cleansed of grief. For how can he avoid grief when he is deprived of something he loves?
It takes time for many to reconsider the value of the relationships in our family, the relationships of friends, our need for those relationships, and to appreciate all who have contributed in the formation who we are. Now there are those who are also not healthy, however, the older we get, the more we need to know and understand those who have been a part of our life – those who loved us and contributed much to helping us succeed in life.
I do not know if there was a time that you ever considered yourself “poor.” Being poor can be very relative in our day. However, we cannot neglect or ignore the fact that there are those who need us and who God commands us to care for. And some of these persons may even be closer to us than we may realize.
O Lord our God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, you have not asked us to sell all that we have and to give to the poor that we may acquire the Kingdom. All that we have are truly yours. We acknowledge our complete dependence upon you, our Source, and accept responsibility for our deeds both good and bad. Grant us the forgiveness of sins and renew in us the desire to do your will, for blessed art Thou, O Christ, our God, who together with the unoriginate Father and Spirit art Holy, now and ever and unto ages of ages.