IN those days, someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One Who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Also, love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “I have kept all them from my youth, what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For people it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
This is one of the more famous stories from the Gospels. A rich young man, who seemingly has everything (or at least a lot), still desires more. Perhaps out of all desires that he has, this one is the most legitimate, the most worthy desire - he wants to have eternal life. He wants to be saved. This is a great thing to be wanting.
If you want something but do not how to get it, what do you do? You go and ask someone who might know what to do! When we read through the Gospels, it becomes very clear that most of the people did not realize just Who Jesus was. He was definitely regarded as a great Teacher. So the rich young man comes to Jesus as to the Teacher, who might have wisdom to point him in the right direction.
To his question about what good thing he must do to have eternal life, Jesus answers with six (!) good things to do. What the Lord lists are, of course, the commandments, part of the Ten Commandments. But notice which commandments Jesus focuses on. Here are the Ten Commandments (which we find in Exodus 20) for you to compare:
I) I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, you shall have no other gods besides Me.
II) You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.
III) You shall not make wrongful (use it in vain) use of the Name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses His Name.
IV) Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day, therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
V) Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
VI) Do not murder.
VII) Do not commit adultery.
VIII) Do not steal.
IX) Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.
X) Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
So, out of the Ten Commandments, the Lord mentions numbers 5 through 9, and adds another - "love your neighbor as yourself." What do all of these commandments have in common? All of them focus on our relationship with other human beings, not directly with God. If we desire to have eternal life, we need to become decent human beings with others.
Why wouldn't Christ demand that we obey God, do not make idols for ourselves, or keep the Sabbath? Aren't those commandments also important? Those commandments are important, of course. Everything that Christ taught is important. However, I think by telling us to focus on having good relationships with others Christ is also teaching us something important.
Every single human being is created in the image and likeness of God, of Christ Himself. And, every single human being has distorted that image through the filth of sin. What Christ is saying here is focus on the likeness of God, not on the sin. When we will learn to love others as ourselves, we will learn to love God.
Why is it so important to love others? Why does Christianity focus on that so much? Think about it this way - would you be willing to live with someone you despise in the same house for the rest of your life? Now remember what the rich young man wanted. He wanted eternal life. Life, both this temporal one and the eternal one, is not lived out in complete solitude. If there are people whom we can't stand now, how are we supposed to live with them forever, sharing in the grace of God (if we make it to heaven, of course :) )?
And if we can't stand some people, then it means we can't stand some aspects of God. Again, I need to emphasize here that we are talking about loving and respecting human beings, not necessarily being accepting of their life choices and behavior. We love the sinner (because we are all sinners), but we reject the sin (because any and all sins lead us away from God and to a place we don't want to spend even a minute in). And if we can't stand some aspects of God, how can we possibly rejoice in His grace in the eternal life?
Hell does not necessarily mean demons frying sinners on pans. Hell can also be something like standing in the light, and love, and grace of God and being deeply pained by it. If we reject this light, and love, and grace now, and refuse to share it with others, it will not bring us joy when we come face to face with it.
At the end of the passage the disciples ask Jesus, "Then who can be saved?" And He answers, "For people it is impossible, but for God all things are possible." We can't rely on ourselves, or on others because we are more likely than not to dislike, or even hate, others. There is not point expecting that someone will provide us a better life, let alone an eternal one, if we can't stand them.
But all things are possible for God. Well, duh, He is God All-powerful. Rely on Him and learn from Him what it means to love others as yourself. Hint: look at the Cross.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest