A Homily on the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-27)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us of the rich young ruler who earnestly desired eternal life and asked Christ how he could inherit this desire. Christ first gives him some basic commandments of the law to see if the man had kept these. He replied that he had kept them all from his youth. Christ, knowing the young man’s heart and loving him tells 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.
This man’s heart was divided. Blessed Theophylact tells us,
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.
For this man, riches clove his heart in two and his love for God was divided. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). But riches alone do not hinder one from possessing eternal life. The heart is deep (Psalm 64). Solomon writes in the book of Proverbs, My son, give me thine heart(Proverbs 23:26). God wants our hearts to love Him as our first love. But often, we live outwardly, appearing that we love God by our demeanour and actions, going through the motions, doing what is expected of us. Sometimes we are unaware of our hearts being divided, such as the rich young ruler, and God lovingly points it out to us to help us rid ourselves of those things that obstruct our loving Him as we should. And sometimes we are aware of it, but hide it from others and even from ourselves, keeping up appearances, and thinking that we are getting by just fine, dividing our hearts between a sincere but weak love for God and a love for not only riches, which may not be the case with most of those sitting here, but love of the esteem of others, love of our image of ourselves as wise, holy, affable, smart, witty, clever, simple, well-liked, etc. etc. One might say our love of God is in competition with our love of the false image of ourselves, or some secret desire in our hearts that we are ashamed to admit not only in confession but even to ourselves.
I think that one of the reasons that God sometimes gives the gift of clairvoyance to certain holy people, is so that those holy people, who have loving and pure and undivided hearts can see into the hearts of others and tell them what is there that is blocking their love for God from becoming full and fruitful. Some of you have experienced this before, and we all have read about the reaction people have when they realize the holy elder or confessor before them can read their hearts and minds and see everything inside of them. I believe part of the reason God gives this gift is because He loves us so much, He wants people to realize that He sees everything inside of us, all the filth and the passions that we hide from others and he looks on us with boundless compassion. Many of us for various reasons doubt this most basic spiritual reality, but these doubts are a sickness, not reality. Christ looks at our hearts and knows what is there and the passions and sins that keep us from His love; nothing is hidden from Him. And yet, we often live and slink about in our inner darkness, thinking nobody sees what’s inside of us. Perhaps nobody around us does, but of course God does. But we don’t really believe this, and so God enlightens some people with this gift to show us that yes, He does see everything and will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart (I Cor. 4:5), all so that we might love Him with pure and undivided hearts.
The demons cannot read our minds and know our hearts, and still less can guess what good is there, but they know us very well and can guess pretty well what sinful inclinations are inside of us. All of this is so that they can accuse us before God in order to destroy us, if we give them access by indulging our passions and not bringing them into the light by confession and repentance. But God sees our hearts and minds with perfect clarity and with perfect love and compassion and will never seek to expose us to ridicule or condemn us but to lovingly help us. It is up to us to respond to this and seek to cleanse our hearts by repentance and confession, because if we don’t, no clairvoyant elder or miracle-working saint can help you if you nourish and cling to those things in your heart that keep you from loving God. God will not violate our freewill, but wants us to freely love Him with hearts aflame.
How happy and free and with such a full heart the rich young ruler mentioned in today’s Gospel would have been had he responded to Christ’s injunction as the apostles did and sold all that he had and given it to the poor and followed Christ. But the money had a hold on his heart and he could not, or I should say would not let that go. And he went away very sorrowful.
In contrast to the rich young ruler, we have so many saints to show us the way to have a pure and undivided heart; to have a heart that burns with love for Christ. Who of us can claim to have this? Nobody is born with this, but we must seek it and yearn for it, ask for it from God, from the saints, and live so as to acquire this kind of heart. Christ is calling us to give our hearts to Him. Do we desire to answer by dropping everything that clutters our hearts and follow Him with our hearts burning within us?
One saint came to my mind while thinking of a heart that was fully Christ’s and burned with love for him: St. Ignatius the God-bearer. St. Nikolai Velimirovic reflects on the heart of St. Ignatius in the Prologue reading for December 20th. He writes:
The holy martyrs, seized with the love of Christ, were like unquenchable flames. This love eased their sufferings and made their deaths sweet. St. [John] Chrysostom says of St. Ignatius: “He put off his body with as much ease as one takes off his clothes.” Traveling to Rome to his death, Ignatius feared only one thing: that Christians would somehow prevent his martyrdom for Christ, by their prayers to God or in some outward manner. Therefore he continually implored them, in writing and in speech, not to do this. “Forgive me,” he said. “I know what is for my benefit. I but begin to be a disciple of Christ when I desire nothing, either visible or invisible, save to attain Christ. May every diabolical torture come upon me: fire, crucifixion, wild beasts, the sword, tearing asunder, the crushing of my bones, and the dismemberment of my whole body-only that I may receive Jesus Christ. It is better for me to die for Christ than to reign to the ends of the earth…. My love is nailed to the Cross, and there is no fire of love in me for any earthly thing.” When he was brought to the circus, he turned to the people with these words: “Citizens of Rome, know that I am not being punished for any crime, neither have I been condemned to death for any transgression, but rather for the sake of my God, by Whose love I am overcome and Whom I insatiably desire. I am His wheat, and the teeth of the wild beasts will grind me to be His pure bread.” When he had been devoured by the wild beasts, by God’s providence his heart remained among the bones. When the unbelievers cut open the saint’s heart, they saw inside, inscribed in golden letters, the name Jesus Christ.1
And so I leave you with the words of Solomon that express the most important thing that God wants from us: My son, give me thine heart.
—A sermon delivered at Holy Cross Monastery on January 14/27, 2013, commemoration of St. Nino, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Enlightener of Georgia and the Apodosis of Theophany, Thirtieth Sunday after Pentecost.
1 St. Nikolai Velimirovic. The Prologue of Ohrid, December 20th entry.