November 26, 2017

Gospel Commentary for the Thirteenth Sunday of Luke (St. Theophylact of Ochrid)

Thirteenth Sunday of Luke

The Rich Young Man

Luke 18:18-27

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke

By Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

18-23. And a certain ruler asked Him saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said unto him, "Why callest thou Me good? None is good, save One, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother." And he said, "All these have I kept from my youth up." Now when Jesus heard these things, He said unto him, "Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me." And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

Some think that this man was cunning and sought to trap the Lord with words. But this is not how he appears; rather, he was a lover of money, and Christ Himself rebuked him as such. Mark says that the man came running, and knelt before Jesus, and asked Him his question, and that Jesus, beholding him, loved him. [Mk. 10:17-22] The man is a lover of money, and he approaches Jesus eager to learn how he, along with his wealth, might inherit eternal life. For there is no one who loves prolonged life as much as a man who loves money. Therefore this man thought that Jesus could show him some way in which he could live forever enjoying his possession of wealth. But when the Lord told him that non-possession is what bestows eternal life, he went away as if he regretted both his question and Jesus answer. In his mind he needed eternal life for the very reason that he had great wealth. If he were to give up his possessions, why would he want eternal life, he thought, since that life was to be the life of a pauper? He approached the Lord as if the Lord were merely a man and a teacher. Therefore the Lord shows him that he ought not to approach Him in this manner, saying, "None is good, save One, that is, God." By this He means, "You call Me good; why then do you also call Me a teacher? It appears that you think that I am one among many men. But if this were so, I would not be good, for no man is good in and of himself. Only God is. If you want to call Me good, you must call Me good because I am God; do not approach Me then as if I were merely a man. But if you think I am only a man, do not call Me good. For in truth God is good, and the source of goodness, and the first cause of goodness itself. If any man is good, he is not good in and of himself, but only because he receives a share of God's goodness. Moreover, what goodness a man has is changeable."

"Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness," and so forth. The law remedies first those sins into which we fall easily, and then those less frequent sins to which fewer men fall. And so adultery and murder are mentioned first, because lust and anger are difficult to control: lust is a raging fire, inflaming both the outer and inner man, and anger is a great wild beast. (1) But stealing comes from a less fierce passion and bearing false witness occurs rarely. Therefore, the law remedies first those sins into which we fall most easily, and which are the most grave. But the other sins, such as stealing and bearing false witness, He places second because they lead astray less often and are less grave than murder and adultery. To sin against ones parents He mentions last of all; for although it is a grave sin, it does not occur often. Rarely is there found a man so cruel that he abuses his parents. Because the young man said that he had kept all these commandments from his youth, the Lord enjoins him to keep that commandment which stands at the head of all: non-possession. Behold the laws of the true Christian life. "Sell all that thou hast," the Lord says. If anything remains, you are its slave. "And distribute," not to your rich relatives, but "unto the poor." I think that the word distribute implies that the meting out of wealth is to be done with discernment and not haphazardly. And because a man must have all the other virtues as well as non-possession, the Lord then said, "And come, follow Me," meaning, "Be My disciple in all things, and always keep following Me. (2) Do not follow Me today only, and leave Me tomorrow." Because the ruler was a lover of money, the Lord promised him treasure in heaven, but the ruler did not give heed, because he was a slave of his money. Therefore when he heard what the Lord had asked of him, he was sorrowful. For the Lord had counselled him to deprive himself of his wealth; yet that was the very reason he wanted eternal life in the first place, so that he could live forever enjoying his many possessions. That he was sorrowful shows that he was sincere and not devious. Not one of the Pharisees was ever sorrowful; instead, they raged even more against the Lord when they heard His answers to their questions. I am not unaware that the great light of the world, John Chrysostom, believed that this young man truly desired eternal life, but that he was held fast by the love of money, a passion that was stronger than his love for eternal life. What we have said here is not inconsistent, namely, that the young man desired to have eternal life along with his wealth.

24-30. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it shall be for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needles eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." And they that heard it said, "Who then can be saved?" And He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." Then Peter said, "Lo, we have left all, and followed Thee." And He said unto them, "Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of Gods sake, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come life everlasting."

Because the rich man was sorrowful when he heard that he should give up his riches, the Lord said, as though He were marvelling, "How hard it shall be for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" He did not say that it would be impossible for those with wealth to enter, but that it would be difficult. It is not impossible for such as these to be saved. Those who give away their riches are able to obtain the heavenly things above. However, this is difficult, for money is stickier than glue and it is hard for a man to free himself when he is held fast by money. In His very next words the Lord indicates that this is so difficult that it is all but impossible, when He says, "It is easier for a camel to go through a needles eye, than for a rich man to be saved." It is indeed impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, whether you understand "camel" to mean the animal or the thick rope used on a ship. Therefore, if it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle which is impossible than it is for a rich man to be saved, then it is even more impossible for a rich man to be saved. What does the Lord mean? First, that this statement is true: it is impossible for a rich man, while he is a rich man, to be saved. Do not say to me that such and such a rich man gave away his riches and was saved. He was not saved as a rich man; he was saved either as a man who had attained non-possession, or who had become a steward, but not as a rich man. A steward and a rich man are not the same. The rich man keeps riches for himself, while the steward, as a trustee, holds wealth for the benefit of others. Therefore, if such a man is saved, he is not saved as a rich man, but, as we have said, because he has given away all that he has, or because he has spent his wealth as a good steward. Consider this as well: while it is impossible for a rich man to be saved, it is not impossible, but only difficult, for them that have riches to be saved. It is as if the Lord had said, "The rich man who is possessed by riches and is a slave to them and is held fast by them, shall not be saved. But he who only has riches, that is, who is master of riches, owning them without being owned by them, shall be saved with difficulty." That difficulty is because of human weakness. For it is impossible for us not to misuse what we have. As long as we have riches, the devil strives in every way to deceive us into using that wealth in ways that violate the canons and laws of stewardship, and only with great difficulty do we escape the devils traps. This is why non-possession is better, and almost unassailable by the evil one.

"And they that heard it said, 'Who then can be saved?' And He said, 'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.'" With men who have merely a human outlook, that is, those who desire earthly things and are pulled downwards, it is impossible for them to be saved, as we have said. But with God it is possible. That is to say, with Gods help, when a man has God as his Counsellor, and takes as his teachers the judgments of God and His commandments concerning non-possession, and calls upon God for help, then it is possible to be saved. We, for our part, must desire what is good; God will then accomplish and perfect it in us. If we can only rise above our timid littleness of soul as concerns our wealth, and make for ourselves friends from the mammon of unrighteousness, we will be saved by those friends when they escort us to the eternal mansions. It is better if we give away all our wealth; and if not all, then at least let us share it with the poor. Thus the impossible becomes possible. For though it is impossible for the man who does not distribute all to be saved, yet through Gods love for man, even a partial distribution brings a partial benefit. In response to this, Peter asks, "Lo, we have left all. [What do we have to give to the poor?]" He does not ask this for his own sake alone, but in order to find some consolation for all the poor. Peter asks his question for fear that only the rich have the good hope to obtain much because they despised much, and that the poor have little hope because they had little to give away and thus can expect only a little reward. Peter asks, and hears the answer, that everyone who despises, for Gods sake, whatever goods he may have, even if they are few, shall receive his reward both in this age and in the age to come. Do not consider those goods to be few; rather, for that poor man, his few things are his whole life. Just as you, the rich man, expect to pass your life with your many and great possessions, the pauper, likewise, expects to pass his life with his belongings, no matter how few and small they may be. Though his belongings are few, I will say that a mans attachment to his possessions is even greater when he owns little. This is clearly shown to be true with parents. The attachment of a parent to his only child is much greater than that of a parent to his many children. Likewise, the poor man has a keener love for his single house and single field than you have for your many houses and fields. And even if it is the case that a poor man is attached to his possessions to the same degree as a rich man, then, at a minimum, the loss is the same for each. Even in this present age, those who give of the little they have receive their reward many times over, as did these very Apostles. For each Apostle left his own hut, and now each one has magnificent temples in his name, with lands and triumphant processions, and, instead of a single wife, many women bound to him in fervent faith; in short, for everything they gave up, they have received many times over. And in the age to come they receive, not a multiplication of fields such as these and other tangible rewards, but eternal life.


1. Bl. Theophylact here includes lust with adultery, and anger with murder, in accordance with Christs commandments and teaching. See Mt. 5:21-22, 27-28.

2. In the Greek text, the word for "follow," akolouthei, is in the present imperative, implying a continuous action. By contrast, the two previous imperatives, poleson, "sell," and diados, "distribute," are in the aorist imperative, implying a single, finite action.