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August 30, 2020

Homily One for the Twelfth Sunday of Matthew - On Wealth and the Wealthy (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Matthew
On Wealth and the Wealthy

By St. Luke of Simferopol

You heard today the Gospel reading about the rich young man who did not want to share his fortune to become an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven. Then the Lord told His disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Before interpreting what Christ said to the rich young man, listen to what the apostle James says about the rich: "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you" (James 5:1-6).

Do you see what terrible words the apostle James said about the rich and how severely he rebuked them? And what could be more terrible than the words of the Lord Jesus Christ who says that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God?

Why is it difficult? At the time of Christ, the people of Israel were of the opinion that wealth is a blessing from God, which is why rich people were highly respected and valued.

When the Lord said that wealth is an obstacle to entering the Kingdom of God, His astonished disciples asked Him: "Who then can be saved?" (Matt. 19:25). They also were of the opinion that the rich have the blessing of God. If the rich will not be saved, then who will be saved? The Lord answered them: "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27).

Let us think on these words better. When the young man told the Lord that he wanted to follow Him, the Lord asked him, "Do you know the commandments?" "Yes," he replied, "of course I know all the commandments and I have kept them since I was a child." But the Lord has shown, to him and to all others, that it is not enough to keep only the commandments of the old law, that is, those ten commandments which you also know.

Why is it not enough? The Jews were convinced that the commandments are everything, whoever keeps the commandments is pure and holy and will inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Lord said that this is not the case at all.

What do the commandments of the old law ask of the people? The first commandment teaches people to worship the one and only God, to worship only Him and to have no other gods besides Him. The second commandment forbids people to worship idols. What does this mean? That all those who do not worship idols automatically become pure and holy? We all worship one God. Are we all saints?

The law dictates that we respect our father and mother. Does this mean that we are saints because we respect our parents and do not throw them in the street when they grow old? Does that alone make us righteous before God?

The commandments say not to commit adultery, not to murder, not to steal, not to envy our neighbor, not to desire anything that is not his own, and not to desire the wife of another. And what does this mean? If we are not murderers, we are not thieves, we are not fornicators, we are not false witnesses, if we do not jealously seize the property of our fellow human beings, does that mean that we are pure and holy before God?

All the commandments of the old law are negative and they say that we should not do this or that. But they do not say how we should be. They only forbid us to commit the thickest, ugliest sins. These commandments were intended for a cruel people, people who took the first simple steps in correcting themselves.

The Lord Jesus Christ said that He did not come to abolish the law but to "fulfill" it. This word in the Slavic language has two meanings - "fulfill" and "complete".

The Lord gave us a new law, which is more perfect than the old law of Moses. He gave us the nine saving commandments of the Beatitudes. He tells us that the pure and holy before God are not those who do not steal and do not murder, they are not the ones who keep the commandments of the law of Sinai, but those who are spiritually perfect. Those who are full of humility, those who shed tears for their sins and the injustice they see in the world. Those who see the Cross of Christ with a broken heart. They will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

He blesses those who are among the meek, the thirsty and the hungry for truth, the merciful and the peacemakers. He promises the Kingdom of God to those who are persecuted for the truth, to those whom others ridicule and insult for His namesake.

He, therefore, is pure and holy who is spiritually perfect. And the Lord asks us all to be spiritually perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

The Lord in His Sermon on the Mount gave us such commandments that make our hearts tremble. How not to care about tomorrow, how to forgive our enemies and love them, how to give our last shirt to the other. And yet we must do all this to become perfect.

To the young man who wanted to become perfect and had already fulfilled all the old law, Christ said: "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" (Matt. 19:21). And as soon as the young man heard this, he left sad because he had great wealth and could not do what the Lord asked him to do.

Why did the Lord ask him to sell everything he had and give to the poor? Because having great wealth is completely incompatible with living according to the commandments of Christ. Can a meek and humble man keep shedding tears while watching his brethren suffer and at the same time multiply his wealth, build new houses, buy new horses and expensive clothes?

Certainly not, because if he is compassionate he will constantly share what he has. And then when he shares everything he will fulfill the law of Christ. If he keeps his wealth for himself, it means that he loves himself more than his neighbor. But the Lord told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we so love our neighbor, will we not give to the helpless and the hungry all that we have? Will we then be able to live as the rich in America do?

In vain and crazy amusements they waste the money that the workers earn for them with their own sweat and blood.

That is why the Lord Jesus Christ says that if we do not want to give up our wealth, we will not enter the Kingdom of God, because in this case we remain hard-hearted and misanthropic egotists. But can such people have a place in the Kingdom of God? It is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But what does all this have to do with us, the people who have no wealth? It has a direct relationship. Think about what wounds the souls of those people who have wealth? What wounds them is their earthly goods, the various pleasures, the luxury these people put above all. They consider them more important than spiritually good things, which are acquired by people who may not have material goods, but have the great wealth of love of God and neighbor.

He who is attached to the earth, who seeks pleasures, suffers precisely from that passion which does not allow the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

There are few of us who, although they do not have money and sometimes do not have their necessities, but they want money, they want pleasures and fun and they do not sin, because they simply do not have the ability to sin. And if they had, they would have committed the same sins as the rich man at the door of whose house Lazarus was sitting ready to die of poverty and hunger.

If we, although not rich, seek the pleasures and joys of life; if the purpose of our life is prosperity, if all our thoughts are on how to have a better life, and that is all we seek, then surely we are far from what the Lord asks. Because people who seek purity of heart, merciful people, they only seek to be close to God, to have fellowship with Him, to seek His grace and love, they want to be brethren of Christ.

Many times the poorest man, who has nothing on earth but serves God, many times this man, is richer even than the richest people in the world. His wealth is divine grace, purity of heart, love and sympathy for his hungry and unhappy brethren. But first of all their wealth is the warm love of God, our Savior Jesus Christ.

It is now easy to see the answer that Christ gave to his disciples' question, "Who then can be saved?" (Lk. 18:26). His answer was: "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27).

For God everything is possible. He can deprive hard-hearted and ruthless rich people of spiritually good things. And He can give the greatest joy in the Lord to the poorest and most despised people who die of hunger.

God can save everyone. He can also save the rich, if they repent, if they hate their wealth and put into practice the words of Christ: "Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:21). This was done by one of the greatest saints, Saint Anthony the Great. When he was twenty years old his parents died and he became the heir of a large estate. One day he heard in the church these words of the Gospel: "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" (Matt. 19:21).

These words made a great impression on him, went deep into his heart and completely occupied his mind. Anthony the Great went, sold his property, distributed the money to the poor and left by himself into the desert, where he lived to a ripe old age. He had denied all earthly goods but received from God incomparably greater wealth. God gave him the gift of prophecy and miracles and Anthony the Great became a brother and friend of Christ.

This is how we should accept Christ's words about earthly riches. To banish from our hearts the attachment to earthly goods. And only one thing to pursue: to be friends and brethren of God, who love Christ and whom He loves.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.