My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
It is a truth that nothing else can so darken and confuse human thought as a total attachment to the things of the present world, and being possessed by the love of money. These give rise to innumerable evils: coldness towards one’s neighbour, distrust of loved ones, irreconcilability with enemies, disregard for nature itself, countless worries, cowardice, and finally even the loss of one’s soul and a falling away from the kingdom of heaven.
No one who completely serves possessions will ever be able to begin to receive in earnest the good things of heaven and its beauty; furthermore, one who fiercely struggles and strives for the transitory and corruptible goods of the present world will forfeit the eternal blessings of heaven. As our Lord assures us: You cannot serve God and mammon. Indeed, a man who loves one master will come to hate another; if he is devoted to one, he will despise the other.
Experience itself tells us that those who have cut off the passion for possessions are those who have been able to love God more, while those who have been enslaved by the passion for possessions grow lax in striving for God.
Once the soul has been seized by the love of money, the soul will not soon forsake such an idolatry. It has become the slave of its master, mammon, and all the orders of mammon are directed against God and godliness.
For God charges all to love one another and to greet one another with a kiss of charity. Mammon encourages those who serve him to be the enemies of everyone and to look out only for themselves. God directs us to liberate ourselves and to be free from excessive and useless cares. Mammon chains those who love him to material things, which gives us no rest, not even at night. Mammon urges us to accumulate those treasures which come from iniquity and from turning other people into commodities to be harvested. God desires that we store up treasures in heaven, not those treasures which come from the iniquities of others, but those which come from His righteousness.
Since these things are so, my friends, let us turn away from the passionate desire for money. This passion makes those who are subject to it its own slaves, alienating them from all else. This passion has brought the world countless wars. It has destroyed families. It has undermined entire societies. It has filled cities with mourning and weeping. And it also blocked the young man who came to our Lord in today’s Gospel from attaining the perfect life and from following our Lord, even though he believed and kept all the commandments of the Law, as we read:
At that time: A young man came unto Jesus, bowing before Him, and said: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting?
Some commentators on the Scriptures will speak ill of the young man who came to our Lord, saying that he was from the beginning being insincere and deceitful, and that he was only tempting the Lord with his question. But let us ourselves be guileless, and let us accept the young man as being entirely sincere in his question, for our Lord Himself treats him thusly and He answers him sincerely. So let us have the same spirit.
Who said to him: Why asketh thou Me concerning good? One is good, God.
Only God is good by nature, and only one who imitates God becomes good by the activity of the will. No one whether material or immaterial, is truly good, save God alone. To be good by nature is proper to God, and therefore He is unchangeable; all other beings, visible and invisible, can be good by volition – by their will – even though they are changeable. Since – as the Fathers tell us – the young man thought our Lord to be a mere man, he called Him good referring Him not as God but as a man, as one of the Jewish teachers; therefore our Lord answers him according to his own opinion as a man: Why do you call Me good, if in your opinion I am only a man? In saying this, our Lord did not detract from man’s goodness, which is written into him by God, but rather He taught us about true goodness; at the same time, He rejected flattery, and taught us not to pay attention to words of praise.
But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to Him: Which?
It was not to test the Lord that the young man said, “Which?” Rather, he had a genuine and commendable curiosity to deepen his understanding of the commandments of God. Saint John Chrysostom likewise says that the young man thought that besides the commandments of the Law there might be others which lead to eternal life, which he would then follow.
And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith to Him: All these I have kept from my youth…
In keeping with His divine plan, Christ cites the major commands of the Law for the young man; He shows respect for them, for He was not opposed to the Law, being Himself the Author of the Law. At the same time He intends to demonstrate that a person who considers himself perfect according to the Law is yet imperfect in terms of the Law of the Gospel.
With the foreknowledge He possesses as God, the Lord knew that the young man would answer that he had kept the commandments and observed them from his youth; therefore, the Lord proposed to the young man one of the precepts of the Gospel, namely, as we willl hear, the abandonment of riches, and thereby exposed to the young man the love of money which had hold of his heart.
Our Lord here clearly showed that avarice is harmful to every virtue; therefore, He commanded that we flee from it and drive away this passion. For if the young man had observed the commandments of the Law, he would have accomplished something truly great. But how could he have fulfilled them? For example, take the commandment, Love thy neighbour as thyself. He loved his neighbour as himself, in that he would not do him any harm, but he would not share his wealth with him; for this is a heavenly thing. Let us who are followers of the law of the Gospel, my friends, let us see whether we love our neighbours as ourselves and share with them the good things which we have received from God.
The young man asks:
What is yet wanting to me?
In saying this, he reveals and shows that he desires and longs for greater virtue.
Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow Me.
Inasmuch as riches were a hindrance of following our Lord, He bids the young man to sell them and give to the poor; then he will be free to follow Him. To compensate for this, the Lord spoke to the young man of treasure. He promised that he would again possess a treasure, one even greater than he had before. Thou shalt have treasure in heaven, He said; by this He indicated the reward ever kept in store for worthy fulfillment of the commandments. Then He said, Come follow Me; that is, Walk in the footsteps of My way of life, and follow My commandments; for this is what you lack, even though you have fulfilled the commandments of the Law.
And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions.
Great were the young man’s possessions, and just as great was his enslavement to them; for in him the growth of riches lead to a growth in avarice. The desire for great possessions was the reason for his sorrow and his disobedience; since it was impossible for him to follow Christ and not give up his love of riches, and he went away wounded.
Then Jesus said to His disciples: Amen, I say to you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
If the rich man will only enter the kingdom with difficulty, then one who profits by ill-gotten gain will not enter at all. If he who does not give away his possessions is condemned, how much more one who robs the possessions of others.
And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Having said of this matter that it is difficult, our Lord goes on to say that it is impossible, and more than impossible. It is impossible for a camel to squeeze its way through a needle. Some say that by “camel” here is not meant the animal, but that “camel” was the term applied to an extremely thick rope – a cable. Just as the eye of a needle cannot fit either a camel or a cable, on account of its extreme smallness, so also the narrow way that leads to life can not admit a rich man, because he refuses to divest himself of the things of this world. He attempts to carry them with him, and ultimately will fail in his purpose. Narrow and full of sorrows is the way which leadeth to life, and few there are that find it.
And when they had heard this, the disciples wondered very much, saying: Who then can be saved?
The disciples here were troubled; not on their own account, however, because they were poor, but for the sake of the rich were they troubled. They were beginning to partake of the depths of God’s compassion and to grieve over the perdition of the lost.
And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.
First here notice, my friends, that Christ “beholds” his disciples, He simply looks at them, and with His gentle gaze He sets at rest their troubled and fearful minds. “And Jesus beholding.” Then He says, It is impossible for rich men to be saved as long as they are tightly bound by the ties of avarice, and it is impossible for them to be freed from this torment by their own power. God, however, can save them, as, indeed, He can do all things. And God will save the rich, if they offer Him their own efforts and call upon Him as the help and support of their liberation, and if they spend their wealth on the poor, and quench the flame of money-loving passion within themselves.
Thus, my friends, we have learned and we have understood that it is impossible for the lover of money to be saved, unless he makes an effort and has God as his Helper to deliver him from such an evil passion.
Therefore, my friends, let us who are weak draw near to Almighty God for assistance. Let us fall down with contrite hearts before Him Who bestows goods upon the needy, and let us pray that we who were impoverished by sin may be enriched with a wealth of virtues. Thus enriched, let us commit our possessions into God’s hands by placing them in the hands of the poor and the needy. If we store up for ourselves treasure in heaven, then we shall be found to be rich indeed, not doing harm to anyone, but revering those riches which are inexhaustible and abiding; and we shall receive unending and incorruptible delight and enjoyment from this good treasure in Christ Jesus our Lord.