Tag Archives: Matthew 19:16-26

Be Perfect

Sunday, September 8 (OS August 26) 2019: 12th Sunday after Pentecost; Martyrs Adrian and Natalia and 33 companions of Nicomedia (4th c.).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Especially in the Old Testament, the understanding of wealth and poverty is different than what we hear today both in secular culture and even from Christians. It’s important to keep this in mind to rightly understand the events in today’s Gospel.

While the modern concern, for example, with “income inequality,” is not absent in the Scriptures, the fact that some are rich and others poor is not taken as inherently unjust. Rather a person’s economic condition is seen as reflecting the will of God for that person.

This doesn’t mean–in either case–that my economic condition determines my moral standing in the presence of God. While God makes some rich and others poor, all are bound by the same obligation to keep the commandments as Jesus reminds the rich young man.

Additionally, to say with the Old Testament that wealth is a blessing doesn’t mean that it isn’t without its own moral obligations and dangers. With wealth comes the responsibility to use wealthy wisely.

Those who have more have a heavier obligation to care for others; not one’s own parents and children but the poor as well. As we hear in today’s Gospel, fidelity to these specific obligations–to act justly, to love mercy “and to walk humbly” with God (see Michah 6:8)-is the start of perfection.

Listen again to the conversation between Jesus and the rich young man. In response to the man’s question “what must I do to be saved?” Jesus says simply and directly that he must keep the commandments.

It is only when the young man wishes “to justify himself” that Jesus invites him to live by a higher standard. While his salvation is not in question, he is still lacking. He can be perfect if only he is willing to do what perfection requires.

And what must he do? What does perfection require? The man must sell all that he has, give the profit to the poor and to follow Jesus as His disciple.

In saying this, Jesus is not calling into question the moral goodness of wealth. But what He is doing is highlighting an Old Testament concern about wealth

Too easily, wealthy can be used to buy illusory independence from God and neighbor. “Those who trust in their riches will fall,” we read in Proverbs (11:28, NIV) “but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Likewise, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).

The question for my life then becomes this: What is it in my life that keeps me separated from God and neighbor?

For the rich young man in the Gospel, it was his many possessions but what it is for me? The specific command of our Lord to the young man is helpful here.

Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth as such but He does challenge the man to put his wealth at the service of others. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And so the question for me becomes, what am I holding on to that can be put at the service of others? What am I holding on to that keeps me from drawing closer to Jesus Christ by keeping me separated from you? What are the areas of my life where I think God is absent and where my will rather than His will is sovereign?

The other thing about wealth is that it is often used to buy the appearance of respectability. Put slightly differently, what in my life do I use to earn the favor of others rather than the favor of God?

Or how do I use you to bolster my own self-image rather put the gifts God has given me at the service of your flourishing and sanctification?

My brothers and sisters in Christ! All of us can be like the rich young man. We can all hold on to things that we use to justify our separation from God, our indifference to those in need and our pursuit of worldly success at the expense of the Kingdom of God.

The solution to this is not to pretend that our wealth isn’t wealth. It is rather to make a conscience and consistent effort to put our wealth–material, intellectual, or social–at the service of the Kingdom of God.

Today, Jesus calls each of us to perfection. He calls each of us to take that which keeps us from Him and put it the service of God and of our neighbor.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: A Debt Only the Gospel Can Pay

Sunday, August 27, 2017: 12th Sunday of Matthew; Pimen the Great, Holy Martyr Phanurius, Anthousa the Martyr, Poimen of Palestine, Hosisos the Confessor, Liverios, Pope of Rome, Monica

Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17
Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26

While the rich young man’s initial question is reasonable enough, as the conversation unfolds it becomes clear that his obedience to the commandments is merely external. He hasn’t yet, to borrow from St Paul, “put on the whole armor of God.”

Sometimes a similar thing afflicts us in our own spiritual lives. Or rather, at times we hurt ourselves the same way the rich young man hurt himself.

Just as God blessed the young man with the Law and great material wealth, as Orthodox Christians living in America we have been blessed both spiritually and materially. Not only are we heirs to the Tradition of the Church, we live in a country that for all its problems has afforded us economic, educational, social and political opportunities beyond what any of our ancestors could have imagined. By most statistical measures, Orthodox Christians in America are well-educated, wealthy and at least according to secular measures powerful.

Our likeliness to the rich young man, however, has a second, darker side. To see this, we need to be honest with ourselves. We tend to admire our Tradition than

We tend to admire our Tradition more than we put it into practice. For example, we take our moral norms not from the Gospel but the culture. As a group, our moral views are indistinguishable from those of most Americans. While this convergence isn’t all bad, it does suggest that in many ways we are estranged from our own Tradition. This means we not to think with the Church but with popular culture; we tend to model our lives not after the martyrs and the saints but the rich and famous of this world.

There is, however, a third way in which Orthodox Christians in America are like the rich young man in the Gospel. Like him, God has come to us so that we can come to Him. As He did in His conversation with the rich young man, Jesus is saying to each of us this morning and every day our lives “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

We need to be careful in how we understand these words. We mustn’t interpret them in a crassly materialistic terms. While some of us are called to sell all and embrace a life of evangelical and monastic poverty, for most of us the command is more subtle.

Are we, am I, willing to put the economic and educational, social and political gifts God has us as Orthodox Christians living in America at the service of the Gospel? 

Are we, am I, willing to follow Jesus Christ as His disciples and apostles? 

Are we, am I, willing to shape my life around His Person and teaching and give witness by word and deed of the Resurrection?

All of these questions are really only one question. As we are asked at our baptism, do we believe in Jesus Christ as “King and God”?

Sincerely answering”Yes” to this question will transform our lives, our families, and our parishes. And a sincere “yes” isn’t simply something I say once and never again. It is rather something I must say every day, every moment of my life.

Have I said yes? Am I still saying yes to Jesus as my King and God?

While each of us needs to answer this in the depths of our own hearts, the general trend of the Church in America would suggest that many of us have stopped saying yes. We are losing not only young people but those who joined the Church as adults. This is happening, I would suggest, because we are living lives largely indistinguishable from our non-Orthodox neighbors.

In one sense, our being like everyone else is good and proper. As we read in the Letter to Diogentius,”Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life.”

In other ways though, being indistinguishable from those around us is a harsh indictment of our faith. It suggests that we have not taken St Paul’s words to heart that we put on the whole of the armor of Christ. This is why, again like the rich young man, we are often sorrowful. We fail, I fail, to find joy in being a Christian because I am attached to the things of this life.

What does it mean to be detached from the things of this world? St Paul tells us.

It means that we know that those around us, however much they disagree with the Gospel, are not our enemies to hate but our neighbors to love. We can love even those who hate us because God loves them. And we know that our battle isn’t with them, it isn’t “against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Having said yes to God from the depth of our heart not simply once but daily, we understand that the blessings of faith but also of material wealth and civil liberty, are given to us by God not only for His glory but for our salvation and the salvation of those around us.

And make no mistake. However much we diverge from the world, many of the blessings God has given us have come to us through those who don’t yet know the Gospel. We owe to every non-believer, to all those outside the Church who have contributed to the good things in our lives a debt that can only be paid by offering them the Gospel.

And we can only pay this debt if we put on the armor of God, say yes to Jesus, sell all we have and give to the poor, and follow Jesus as King and God.

All of this is to  say that paying the debt you owe to your neighbor, means you must “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”  (Matthew 5:48).

And what does it mean to be perfect? 

That we let nothing limit our commitment to Christ. 

That let nothing limit our witness to His Resurrection. 

Above all, to be perfect means letting nothing limit our love for our neighbor. Perfection means we have with the same love for our neighbor that Christ has for each of us. This love is the only way we can pay the debt we owe for the blessings God has given us by the hand of our neighbor.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: What Keeps Me From Love?

Sunday, August 23, 2015: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost & Twelfth Sunday of Matthew

Leave-taking of the Dormition of the Theotokos Martyr Lupus, servant of the Great-Martyr Demetrios; Hieromartyr Irenaios, bishop of Lyons; Venerable Nicholas and Dionysios of Olympus

EPISTLE: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
GOSPEL: Matthew 19:16-26

Reading the Gospel this morning we need to be careful that we not draw an economic lesson from Jesus’ words to the young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” These words are directed to the young man personally and not to the Church generally; they speak to what is lacking in him not of what is required of all.

At the same time, I ought not to dismiss our Lord’s words in the Gospel as if they weren’t applicable to me. St John Chrysostom says that what Christ criticizes here isn’t “money itself but the wills of those who are taken captive by it.” While I may not have been called to a life of evangelical or monastic poverty, I have been called—as have we all—to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and without reservation.

A life of Christian discipleship requires from me more than simply not sinning—as if that were even possible. It is not enough that I avoid the sin of avarice; I must also be generous. It is the absence of generosity that causes the fall of the young man. It isn’t that he is a horrible sinner but rather not even a middling saint. His fault isn’t that he loves money but that he doesn’t love to be generous with his money. He is, in a word, stingy and this Chrysostom says “is an impediment to gaining the Kingdom” of God (“The Gospel of Matthew,” ACCS NT vol Ib, p. 102),

Now compare the young man to St Paul.

The Apostle is so magnanimous, so generous of spirit, that he doesn’t care who preaches the Gospel, only that it is preached and that the Corinthians “hold it fast” and not believe in vain. In another place, he says that

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:19-26, NJKV).

Evil men, for evil reasons and at great cost to Paul preach the Gospel and the Apostle rejoices! He doesn’t begrudgingly acknowledge that even evil men can do good. Nor does he minimize the malicious intent that leads his opponents use the Gospel as a means to increase his suffering. No, Paul looks unflinchingly at the situation and rejoices! He thanks God and praise the that are spoken words even as he acknowledges the sinfulness of the speaker.

Unlike the young man in the Gospel, Paul is generous of heart. He is generous in his love for Christ and in his hope that none “should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NJKV).

And all of this is the fruit of the Apostle personal commitment to Jesus Christ.

Living as we do in a religious culture deformed by an unhealthy individualism, we sometimes shy away from this language. Too often “personal” is setup in opposition to the life of the Church and Holy Tradition. And yet nothing could be further from the truth!

What does Paul say to the Corinthians? They are to hold fast to what they have received. That is, they are to be obedient to the tradition that was passed on to them—whether by word or epistle (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15). In saying this Paul is simply asking them to imitate his example even as he imitates Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1). What does Paul say to the Corinthians? “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” He then goes on to offer a summary of the Gospel, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. ” The kergyma, the preaching of the Gospel, is not a matter of private interpretation or the opinion of an individual. It is rather the tradition of the Church validated by the witness and experience of the Apostles among whom Paul is included as “one untimely born.”

For the Apostle Paul, and so for us today, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ presupposes not only the apostolic witness written in the New Testament but that same witness embodied in Holy Tradition, in the teaching passed down from generation to generation from the time of the apostles to our day.

And above all else, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ means to live in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. To be in a full sense a disciple of Christ means to live as a member of that community drawn out of the world and drawn together in Christ to become His Body.

So what about the young man in the Gospel?

Sadly, he seems to have loved his wealth more than Christ. When told what he needed to do to become perfect, he decided instead to follow his own will. His many possessions and the status the afford him matter more than eternal life. His sorrow is not the “godly sorrow [that] produces repentance leading to salvation.” It is rather “the sorrow of the world [that] produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NJKV).

The hard lesson of the Gospel this morning is this: I need to ask myself what death-dealing sorrow do I hold on to? For the young man in the Gospel, this was his many possessions. But what is it for me? What holds me back from surrendering my life fully and in love to Christ and His will for me? What is it that makes not a horrible sinner but which keeps me from being even a middling saint?

In other words, what must change in me so that, like Paul, I can follow Christ so wholeheartedly that I rejoice in the salvation of others even when it seems to comes at my expense?

This hard lesson is not the end of what we hear this morning. Left to only my own ability, sacrificial love is beyond me. But by God’s grace such love it is possible for me as it is for you. Let us brothers and sisters take the opportunity that Christ has given us today.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory