A HOMILY FOR
THE TWELFTH SUNDAY
About What Is Necessary for Salvation
Brothers and sisters!
In today’s Gospel reading we heard how a certain rich young man approached the Lord Jesus and asked Him what it was necessary to do in order to attain life eternal. Truly, brothers and sisters, this is a very important question — one of the most important of all, but one which far too few people today ask. In this lection, Christ answers the question in part, and elsewhere in the Scriptures in full, either directly or through His holy prophets and apostles. So, let us turn to the Scriptures, that we may understand the answer fully, for our own benefit, and so that we can help others who are concerned for the salvation of their souls.
First, Jesus Christ teaches that to inherit eternal life or blessedness, it is necessary to have faith in Him, as He said to Nicodemus: God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.1
Second, Jesus Christ teaches that to inherit eternal life, one must love God with all fervor — more than anything else — and one’s neighbor as oneself. Once, a certain lawyer asked the Lord the same question as the young man did in today’s Gospel, and the Lord responded by asking Him in turn, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 2 The lawyer responded with a text from Deuteronomy: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.3 Christ then affirmed, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.4
Third, as we heard in today’s Gospel lection, Jesus Christ makes it clear that to inherit eternal life, one must keep God’s commandments, saying, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Fourth, Jesus Christ promises eternal life to all who forsake whatever hinders them from clinging to Him with their whole heart, when He says, Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall inherit eternal life.5 By this He of course does not mean that everyone must necessarily renounce absolutely everything, but only that we must be willing to give up whatever obstructs our union with Him, and thus impedes our success in following the path of piety.
Fifth, Jesus Christ proclaims that all the members of His flock who attentively hear His words and keep them shall inherit eternal life. My sheep hear My voice, He says, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life.6 From this it is clear that we must study Christ’s words in the Gospels, and do our best to fulfill them.
Sixth, Jesus Christ promises that those who worthily partake of His Body and Blood shall enter the Kingdom of heaven. For He said, I am the living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live forever. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.7
Seventh, through the holy prophet Ezekiel, Jesus Christ, already in the Old Testament, made it known that the truly repentant, who change their life and do the good deeds opposite to their former sins, obtain the celestial Kingdom. For it is written: If the transgressor turn away from all his iniquities which he hath committed, and keep all My commandments, and do justice and mercy, he shall surely live, and shall by no means die.8 This also teaches us specifically to deal kindly and equitably with all, and to be generous in almsgiving, if we wish to see the Kingdom of heaven.
Last, to obtain eternal life, we must be faithful, obedient children of the Orthodox Church, the only true Church, the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself. According to Saint Paul, Christ is the Head of the Church and the Saviour of the Body,9 which can only mean the true Church, the Church which Christ Himself established: the holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, and none other. To participate in His salvation, it is necessary to be a member of the Body of which Christ is the Head. Also, in this connection, it is imperative that we never forget Christ’s words: “If your brother neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” 10 Therefore, beware of anything or anyone who would draw you away from obedience or fidelity to the Church of Christ, the Orthodox Church, because these things or persons threaten your salvation.
This, then, is a brief summary of what is necessary for salvation, stated in positive terms. One might also approach the question from the negative side, by listing those things that prevent us from inheriting eternal life. Here is a summary of them:
First, those who reject Jesus Christ will not inherit eternal life. As Saint John the Baptist says, He that believeth not on the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God is upon him.11
Second, people who in this life refuse to walk the narrow path of God’s commandments will not see the Kingdom. As Christ teaches: “Enter ye in at the tight gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: whereas tight is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” 12
Third, those who senselessly love something or someone of this earth in such a way that it impedes his loving God or following Christ wholeheartedly are unworthy of God’s Kingdom. As the Lord says, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life (in this world) shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.” 13 In other words, Christ requires that we reject the kingdom of this world — meaning, whatever fosters the passions or makes us more worldly. Christ expects that we follow and love Him with our whole heart.
Fourth, whoever does not partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ will not inherit eternal life, for Christ says, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.14
Finally, those who fear spiritual struggle, who decline to war manfully against their passions with a view to overcoming their unworthy inclinations, and who allow their passions free rein throughout their lives without correcting them, even to their death, die in their sins and do not pass over unto eternal life. For the Lord says, He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the defiled, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.15
Dear Christians, the eternal Kingdom and punishment without end are not myths intended to entice and frighten little children into behaving themselves nicely, but inescapable truths, an unavoidable choice presented to all mankind by God Incarnate: that is, by Truth Itself, by the lips which never lie. If you believe in Christ, if you do not wish to lose your salvation, then heed what you have heard today, for it constitutes only the smallest part of what the Saviour teaches about salvation. Over and over in the Gospels, Christ repeats these same truths in different form. Search the Scriptures,16 and you will find much else that Christ, His prophets, and His apostles say in the same vein as what you have just heard. And so, brothers and sisters, consider seriously the gravity of the question posed by the young man in today’s lection, and reject, renounce, forsake decisively whatever in your life threatens your salvation. Struggle to live according to piety, fulfilling God’s commandments; offer to the Lord true repentance and all your love; and commune more frequently and worthily of His deifying Body and Blood, with intense preparation and a deep sense of your unworthiness. Do this, and the only Good One, Who makes not just dire threats, but the most wonderful, the most trustworthy, and the most hopeful of promises, will assuredly accept your good volition and number you, not with the goats, but with the blessed sheep of His flock in heaven. Amen.
1. John 3:16
2. Luke 10:26
3. Luke 10:27; Deut. 6:5
4. Luke 10:28
5. Matt. 19:29
6. John 10:27-28
7. John 6:51, 54
8. Ezek. 18:21
9. Eph. 5:23
10. Matt. 18:17
11. John 3:36
12. Matt. 7:13-14
13. Matt. 10:37-39
14. John 6:53
15. Rev. 21:7-8
16. John 5:9