If Thou Wilt Be Perfect, Go and Sell That Thou Hast - Matthew 19:16-26
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? 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 unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Matthrew 19:16-26
St. Gregory of Nyssa says the following about this Gospel reading: " The history regards the rich man to whom the Lord spoke this word as young—the kind of person, I suppose, inclined to enjoy the pleasures of this life—and attached to his possessions; for it says that he was grieved at the advice to part with what he had, and that he did not choose to exchange his property for life eternal. This man, when he heard that a teacher of eternal life was in the neighborhood, came to him in the expectation of living in perpetual luxury, with life indefinitely extended, flattering the Lord with the title of “good,”—flattering, I should rather say, not the Lord as we conceive Him, but as He then appeared in the form of a servant. For his character was not such as to enable him to penetrate the outward veil of flesh, and see through it into the inner shrine of Deity. The Lord, then, Who sees the hearts, discerned the motive with which the young man approached Him as a suppliant,—that he did so, not with a soul intently fixed upon the Divine, but that it was the man whom he besought, calling Him “Good Master,” because he hoped to learn from Him some lore by which the approach of death might be hindered. Accordingly, with good reason did He Who was thus besought by him answer even as He was addressed. For as the entreaty was not addressed to God the Word, so correspondingly the answer was delivered to the applicant by the Humanity of Christ, thereby impressing on the youth a double lesson. For He teaches him, by one and the same answer, both the duty of reverencing and paying homage to the Divinity, not by flattering speeches but by his life, by keeping the commandments and buying life eternal at the cost of all possessions, and also the truth that humanity, having been sunk in depravity by reason of sin, is debarred from the title of “Good”: and for this reason He says, “Why callest Thou Me good?” suggesting in His answer by the word “Me” that human nature which encompassed Him, while by attributing goodness to the Godhead He expressly declared Himself to be good, seeing that He is proclaimed to be God by the Gospel."
St. Nikolai Velimirovich likewise comments on the young man's words, 'What good thing shall I do?' saying, "This question was obviously in the context of his riches, as is usually the case with the rich, who cannot see a distinction between themselves and their possessions, nor think of themselves without thinking of their possessions."
Our Lord responds by telling the man to keep the commandments but had in mind a deeper spiritual way to keep them. We do well to consider some of these spiritual interpretations of the commands listed by Christ.
St. Nikolai says, "'Thou shalt do no murder' means: over much pampering of the body in riches and luxury kills the soul. 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' means: the soul is intended for God as a bride for her husband; if the soul occupies itself with love for worldly riches and brilliance, for luxury and transitory pleasure, it thus commits adultery against its immortal Husband, God. 'Thou shalt not steal' means: do not steal from the soul for the body's benefit; do not steal the time, care or toil that you should devote to the soul and give them to the body. 'Thou shalt not bear false witness' means: do not in any way justify love for riches and the neglect of your soul, for that is the distortion of God's truth, and a false witness before God and you conscience. 'Honor your father and mother' means: do not give respect and honor only to yourself, for it will be to your loss; honor your father and mother, through whom you have come into this world, that you may in this way give honor to God, from whom you came, both you and your parents."
Commenting on the command to 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' Blessed Theophylact says, "For no one who loves his neighbor as himself is wealthier than his neighbor," calling us to really examine the way in which we use our wealth.
Commenting on our Lord's words, 'go and sell that thou hast', St. Nikolai interprets it as the Lord saying, "Go and show yourself to be master of your possessions, and not they of you. In reality, your possessions have hold of you, not you of them."
But there is still even here the temptation to fulfill the works of the law without truly advancing into the Likeness of God.
Blessed Theophylact warns, "But since there are some who give alms but who lead a life full of every kind of filth, He adds, 'and come and follow Me,; that is, possess every other virtue as well."
St. John Chrysostom gives advice on how we today can undo the idolatry of worshipping riches saying, "How is it possible for him that is once sunk in such lust of wealth, to recover himself? If he begin to empty himself of his possessions, and cut off what are superfluous."
He uses a fitting illustration to explain the need to transform our thinking if we are to free ourselves from the delusion of love of riches, saying: "If you have ever had an absurd desire to fly and to be borne through the air, how would you extinguish this unreasonable desire? By fashioning wings, and preparing other instruments, or by convincing the mind that it is desiring things impossible, and that one should attempt none of these things? It is quite plain, that by convincing the mind. But that, you may say, is impossible. But this again is more impossible, to find a limit for this desire. For indeed it is more easy for men to fly, than to make this lust cease by an addition of more."
May we beg the Lord to deliver us from the delusion of love of riches and pleasures of the world. It is tempting to want both the pleasures of this world and eternal life, but we learn from this account in today's Gospel reading that it is not possible. To gain eternal life, we must begin today in a life-long progression of emptying ourselves as our Lord did out of love for God and our brothers. Then we will be truly rich, beholding the ineffable beauty of the countenance of our God in the divine palace of His glory for all eternity. Amen.