The Parable of the Rich Young Man

2 September 1979
Theme: Gospel parables, Human values   Place: London Parish   Period: 1976-1980   Genre: Sermon

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Year after year we read the story of the youth who came to Christ asking how he might become perfect, and there are two points that we constantly overlook. The first is this; we often think, “does that mean he turned away from Christ and perished? It means there was no hope for him, does it, because he was rich and could not immediately cast off the burden of his riches?” The Gospel does not say so. Christ commented on how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Why? Because the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom where there is nothing but love; it is the Kingdom which is defined by the first Beatitude, ”Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”.

What, then, is this poverty? It is the consciousness that I have nothing of my own, nothing that I can retain, nothing inborn in me over which I have control. And indeed, we are called into being by the word of God, we live by His mercy, we know Him because He has revealed Him­self to us, we bear His name because He gave it to us. Our body and mind, our heart, our friendships, our joys and sorrows, are all outside our power; and if we are so rich in being and life, in friendship and love, in strength and weakness, it is because we are beloved of God and because, we are loved by people. There is nothing that we can justly call our own, but just because nothing is ours and yet we are so rich, we must realise that we live by the love of God and of other people and that is what the Kingdom of God is.

It is a great effort for us to understand this, and most unwill­ingly do we accept the fact that it is only because we are beloved, only by and through love, that we are so rich. For the rich man, for the one who thinks that he possesses something of his own, something that he has snatched from the mystery of love and appropriated to himself, it is indeed difficult to be in the Kingdom the whole joy of which is in glory with one’s whole heart and possessing by the love of God and the love of men. But even so we do not perish so easily, for the very reason that we are loved by God. How then should we react to this? Often we think, — and here is the second mistake that we make, — that surely this story does not refer to me; I am not rich. But in fact we are rich in countless ways. There are so many things we cling to and consider as our possessions; our minds, our health, our life, that which we hold and that at which we are aiming; and it is very difficult to say that all this as not ours.

Not so long ago it was granted to us to acquire this church, and someone said to me, “Now it is really our possession”. What a terrify­ing thought! After all, this church is God’s, His own church, and suddenly someone calls it our possession, appropriates it. You see how easy it is to regard as your own even God’s mercy, even God’s gift, even something that is His absolutely. Each one of us tries to be rich in some way; and yet we can only enter the Kingdom of triumphant, joy­ful love when we can say, “Nothing is mine; but how God loves me, and how people spare me, and how my relatives love me, and how wonderful everything is, because I have received such rich gifts although nothing belongs to me”.

At the beginning of this story the young man knows that he is rich, that he has fulfilled the commandments of God, that he is pure before the law, he is righteous. But it turns out that, because he has appropriated all this to himself as a virtue, as the certitude of his right to be saved, it all stands as a barrier in his path. How careful we must be about our own truth and righteousness and about the truth and righteousness of the church; they can transfigure us, but they can become an idol for us, a possession, and separate us from life itself, from love. Let us learn to love in such a way as to forget that we have anything, in such a way as to give thanks, rejoicing that so much is given us; then the whole of life however hard, however grim it may be, will be turned into the Kingdom of God.


Publication: Newsletter N. 124, October, 1980

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