A HOMILY FOR THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

 

About Keeping God’s Commandments

 

        Brothers and sisters!

 

        After our first parents violated the commandment of God and were expelled from paradise, they were filled with grief and longed to regain their former blessedness.  What gave them hope that this was possible was that the Lord God Himself had said that He would put enmity between the serpent that tempted them and the Seed of Eve, Who would bruise the head of the serpent, while the serpent would bruise His heel.[1]  In other words, God promised that Eve’s descendant would trample underfoot the serpent.  Naturally, when Eve gave birth to her first son, (who was named Cain, meaning, “acquisition”), she and Adam expected that these words would be fulfilled in him.  They looked to Cain to crush their enemy’s head and enable them to re-acquire paradise, but their hopes were soon disappointed.  Not only was Cain unable to regain paradise for his parents:  he could not gain it for himself.  In fact, by committing the first murder -- killing his own brother -- he distanced himself and the human race generally even further from paradise.

        Years, centuries, then millennia passed without the promised Deliverer appearing.  People did not lose all faith in His coming, but their understanding of what He would accomplish and what He would be like became so distorted that when He did come, in the person of Jesus Christ, many failed to recognize Him.  Nevertheless, even those hesitant to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah could not help but feel that He was no ordinary teacher.  Never man spake like this man,[2] they were forced to admit.  Moreover, His mighty works confirmed His teaching, so that there came a fear on all,[3] a fear which paradoxically drew people to Him wherever He went.  Some were curious about His teaching, others wanted to behold a miracle or perhaps have one performed for their own benefit, and still others wanted to tempt Him and see whether He would say something contrary to the Law, so that they could accuse Him before the crowd and undermine His authority.  There were, however, those who wanted to hear what He had to say about the deeper questions of life.  Thus, today we heard Saint Luke’s version of the Gospel narrative (a story also related by Matthew and Mark) telling about the rich young man or ruler who asked Christ, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

        From this question, we see that the hope of regaining paradise lost had not vanished among men, and that some still understood the deliverance, the redemption the Messiah would bring, not as a triumph of the Jews over other nations, but as a return to our original blessedness:  as eternal life, as life blessed and unending.  And so it was that the young ruler understood that our temporal existence is, first and foremost, a preparation for life in heaven.

        In response, Christ tells the young man that he must keep the commandments:  Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness.  All these are among the Ten Commandments delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Interestingly, in none of the three Gospel accounts of this story does the Lord specifically mention loving one’s neighbor or loving God.  No doubt this is because to fulfill the Ten Commandments according to the spirit, and not just according to the letter, already entails loving our neighbor; and because he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen?[4] 

        Thus in this conversation Jesus Christ makes clear the possibility of our salvation, of our return to the paradise from which our first ancestors were expelled because of sin; and He also makes clear how to attain this state of blessedness.  We attain it by keeping the commandments, beginning with the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and ending with the many commandments of the Gospel, found throughout the New Testament; and especially by living in accordance with the Beatitudes of the Saviour’s Sermon on the Mount.  The commandments of God are like guideposts on the path leading to the celestial Jerusalem, the heavenly Zion.  When we ignore them, we stray from this saving path, we lose our way to the city on high.  But he that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, says Christ, he it is that loveth Me:  and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.[5]  For Christ to manifest Himself to the soul and dwell in it as its true Lover:  this is already return to paradise, the beginning of eternal life, the beginning of the bliss of heaven.

        Brothers and sisters, the Church of Christ, as our ever-vigilant mother, constantly reminds us, “Hope for paradise, my children; yearn unceasingly for it; strive for it by keeping the commandments.”  We all know from bitter experience that, because of sin and our deeply ingrained passions, this is not so easy to do.  But if the young man in the Gospel, who lived before the outpouring of grace on Holy Pentecost, could keep the commandments, then certainly we, who have the fullness of this grace ready to help us, can do the same.  In any case, as the Lord says at the end of today’s gospel, The things that are impossible with men are possible with God; and the Apostle affirms, I can do all things through Christ Which strengtheneth me.[6]  Therefore, do not waste all your energy on worldly concerns and endeavors, dear Christians, but set aside some time each day to refocus on the main task of life.  Recollect the commandments of God and meditate a little on them.  At the end of the day reflect on the ways in which you have succeeded in fulfilling them, and thank God for enabling you, by His grace, to achieve a measure of success.  Also, repent before the Lord for your failures in keeping the commandments.  Besides this, read a few pages of the New Testament or some other soul-profiting book every day, to remind you of what the Lord expects of you.  This will refresh your memory of the commandments of God, your awareness of how a Christian should live.  So doing, you will attain the immediate goal of the present life:  to remain on the path to the eternal Kingdom, the path to paradise, living as God wishes.  For the end of earthly life is inevitably the same for all, death; but joy in the next life awaits, not those who squander this one, but those who strive ceaselessly to fulfill God’s holy commandments.  Amen.

 

[1] Gen. 3:16

[2] John 7:46

[3] Luke 7:16

[4] I John 4:20

[5] John 14:21

[6] Phil. 4:13