In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
"If you want to enter into life," said Jesus to the rich young man, "keep the commandments.” The young ruler said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 'Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth up."
Jesus says to the rich young ruler, Just keep the commandments and you will inherit eternal life. Simple, right? Absolutely! But the young man wants to make sure WHICH commandments are most critical. He asks, "Which ones?" What he really wants to know is which commandments are essential, and which are not. What he really wants to know is can he ignore the "non-essential" ones and just focus on the big ones? I remember years ago seeing a copy of an Orthodox Prayer Book in English. I forget now who published it, but I do remember looking through the various prayers and seeing asterisks next to some and not next to others. "How odd," I thought, so I hunted around the book for an explanation. In the front of the book there was a little note saying that the asterisk indicates the prayers that "must be said." I saw the same thing once in a little service book for the Sacrament of Holy Unction. Asterisks. These prayers are essential, and presumably, the others may be skipped. I wondered to myself, "Who makes these decisions? Who decides which prayers are sufficient and which may be discarded? The rich young ruler wanted to know from Jesus, which commandments have the asterisks? Which commandments are sufficient and which may be discarded?
Jesus gave the answer: The basic commandments of the Law, the Ten commandments, and the additional one to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Now here's a little interesting aside. I don't know if you noticed, but when Jesus listed the Ten Commandments, He left out all the ones with reference to God. In other words He left the first part, the first 4, if you will. He left out Number 1.) "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," Number 2.) "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," Number 3.) "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," and number 4.) "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." He only gave him the moral laws, the second part, or the second tablet. Also, remember, He only gave him the second part of the two greatest laws given by Jesus in Matthew 22: 36-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." He omitted the first half, the part about God. Why? St Jerome, earlier in his commentary, says "But because he had styled Him Good Master, and had not confessed Him as God, or as the Son of God, He tells him, that in comparison of God there is no holy person to be called good, of whom it is said, "Confess unto the Lord, for he is good; (Ps. 118:1) and therefore He says, "There is one good, that is, God.""
So, perhaps the Lord is pointing out, in a didactical, pedagogical way, that the rich man has a relationship with rules, but not with the Ruler of heaven and earth. He has a zeal for God, but not according to any direct knowledge of God, to paraphrase St Paul (see Romans 10:2). He has no idea that he is talking to God incarnate. He has no idea that he is speaking to the Messiah, the Saviour promised by God. He is pursuing asterisks. He has no idea that the Living God is pursuing him! So what does the rich young man do next? He says to Jesus, "I have kept these commandments; I have obeyed these commandments from the time I was a small child. What am I lacking?"
Sometimes, no, all the time, when we are trying to learn from the Scriptures, we have to look at the context of the reading. Especially, we have to look at what came just before our reading. Do you know what happened just before this rich young man approached Jesus? It'll blow your minds. Listen to what happened just prior to today's reading: "Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it’”(Luke 18: 15-17). This placement is no accident. This chronology speaks volumes. Here the little children are seen flocking to Jesus and He blesses them. The rich young man boasts that even from his childhood he did everything right, he assumed that he lacked nothing. But in fact, he lacked everything! There was nothing he needed to DO, no asterisks to search out, no information to be gathered. All he needed to do was to become like one of those dear little children and run to Jesus, be embraced by Jesus, be blessed by Jesus. But, he didn't do that, did he? In fact, he walked away from Jesus, in sorrow. And why did he do that? Because Jesus showed him who he really worshiped. Jesus showed him who his "god" really was. And perhaps this, above all other reasons, was why Jesus left the "God" bits out of His list of commandments given to this rich young man. Why? Because he himself had left God out. And why had he left God out? Because his "god" was his possessions. His "god" was his wealth and his easy life. Listen to what St John Chrysostom says: "Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest. (For a Christian) to be engrossed with the present life is foreign to our confession and calling...To some their wealth...is a god. Are not these too idolaters?" Solomon in Proverbs says, "Those who trust in their riches will fall" (Proverbs 11:28). And St Paul, writing to Timothy, says, "Command those who are rich in this present world not... to put their hope in wealth...but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything" (1 Timothy 6:17). The rich young man walked away sad because his heart was with his treasure, rather than with God (Cf. Matthew 6:21). He missed out on the one thing needful, to sit at the feet of Jesus and cling to His every word, like Mary, the Sister of Martha and Lazarus (see Luke 10: 39-41). St. Ignatius Brianchaninov makes this observation, he says: "It is only necessary to seek one thing: to be with Jesus. The man who remains with Jesus is rich, even if he is poor with regard to material things. Whoever desires the earthly more than the heavenly loses both the earthly and the heavenly. But whoever seeks the heavenly, is Lord of the whole world." (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, Patericon). Amen.