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The Rich Young Man (Ruler)
fr_basil
SERMON ON THE RICH YOUNG MAN 2017
(Matthew 19: 16-26)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beloved,
When I was a boy, I loved to collect autographs of famous people. I still have most of them – including Richard Nixon, Richard Boone, (he played Paladin on TV), Sophie Tucker – last of the Red Hot Mamas, and many others. On one occasion, in the Lake Tahoe area, I was attending a very special breakfast with my entire family and maybe fifty other people in a banquet room of a local restaurant. They had at this breakfast a celebrity guest-speaker from a wildly popular television series, a Western. I don’t want to reveal the name of the series, or the name of the guest speaker, but let’s just say it wasn’t Dan Blocker, or Michael Landon, or Pernell Roberts, or Victor Sen Yung. In any event, this actor played a character who was like a family patriarch. He was kind, wise, benevolent, and gentle. I was a nine-year-old boy, the speeches were over, everyone was eating their breakfast. Thinking this was a good opportunity, I walked up to him and sheepishly but very politely asked him if he might be willing to give me his autograph. To my surprise, he gave me a sharp look and angrily told me to “go away! If I give you one everyone will want one.” And with a wave of his hand, I was summarily dismissed. I was crushed. I was hurt. My parents were totally shocked by his reaction when I told them, between the sobs, what had happened. And it wasn’t so much the disappointment about the autograph, but it was the WAY that this television hero of mine reacted to me in real life. Truth was, the actor appeared to be much different in real life than he was on TV.
St. Paul in today’s epistle said to us:
"I am the least of the apostles, and I am not worthy to be called an apostle...But by the grace of God I am what I am" (I Cor. 15:1-11).
What are we talking about? We are talking about hypocrisy. The actor (which is what the Greek word ‘hypocrite’ means) portrayed himself as one thing, but the reality was quite different. St. Paul is just the opposite. What you see is what you get. Like Popeye used to say, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am!” This attitude represents true freedom from hypocrisy.
What about the rich young ruler? Luke identifies him as a ruler, an ἄρχων, a leader among the elders. He is young, yet assumes the position of a religious elder among the people. It is hypocrisy at the outset. He pretends to be one thing and yet is actually quite something else.
The Staretz St. Leonid of Optina once wrote, “If you would be simple-hearted like the Apostles, you would not conceal your human shortcomings, you would not pretend to be especially pious. If you would walk free from hypocrisy, then this is the path. While it is easy, not everyone can find it or understand it. This path attracts the grace of God and is the shortest way to salvation. Unpretentiousness, guilelessness, frankness of soul – this is what is pleasing to the Lord Who is lowly of heart.”
As if commenting on this very Gospel reading, St. Nikolai Velimirovich talks about Christ’s campaign against hypocrisy, which he likens to a war. He wrote:
“In His previous sermon, Christ openly makes war against their hypocrisy. As the Son of God dwelled amongst men, and time passed, He increases this war against hypocrisy, and the hypocrisy of the religious rulers of that time, accusing them before their very faces, and in front of all His people. He never admonished any sinners as much as He admonished the hypocrites... It shouldn’t surprise those who have knowledge, that Jesus was not speaking to only one generation, the one during His own time, but to all generations unto the end of time. While He exposed the Jewish hypocrites face to face, He in fact exposes all hypocrites of all times and all generations. Why did Jesus strike so sharply and mercilessly specifically against hypocrisy? It is because hypocrisy is a Satanic lie. Satanic hypocrisy, from the beginning, is the weed that Satan has sown in all of God's crops on the earth: in man's heart, in his home, in his marriage, in his company of friends, in his people and nation, in politics and trade, in sadness and in joy, everywhere, in all ages and civilizations. Not one civilization succeeded in rooting out the weed of hypocrisy, but that weed rooted many of them out. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, announced at the beginning two wars: one against Satan, and one against hypocrisy. The people loved Him, and honored Him with tremendous God-fearing respect, as their Savior, "For He taught them as One having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:29)” (From the Complete Works of Bishop Nikolai [in Serbian], Book 12, p. 825, gently edited.)
St. John of the Ladder wrote: “Hypocrisy is the mother of lying, and often its occasion. For some define hypocrisy as none other than meditation on falsehood and an inventor of falsehood, which has a reprehensible oath intertwined with it.”
Beloved, we need to do our best to flee from the spiritual illness of hypocrisy. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “As far as is it possible, be gentle, humble and simple to all, considering yourself, without hypocrisy, to be spiritually below everyone. Pride is the reason for a cold, pompous and insincere manner of life.” Hypocrisy can break the heart of a little boy, but more importantly, if we are afflicted with it, it can rob us of grace and ultimately, deprive us of the heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

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