On Stewardship and the Orthodox Life - Part 77: Perfection

“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21 RSV)

When a young man approached Jesus and asked Him how to gain eternal life, Jesus’ answer was simple: keep the commandments. The young man told Jesus that he had kept them all. With a look of love, Jesus knew what it was that was a defect in the young man’s pursuit of perfection. He did not love his neighbor as himself – the young man’s love of riches, which if not changed, would not allow him to enter heaven. Then the famous words of Jesus: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus requires nothing more than to follow the example that He Himself had set. Jesus left His riches and glory, and became poor so that humanity, through Jesus’ own poverty, might be made truly rich. Jesus requires nothing more than to give up earthly wealth, honor and pleasure. Jesus knew that as long as love for those earthly things are in the world, entrance to eternal life is barred.

Did the young man receive the words of Jesus? Did he rejoice that he had finally found the way to heaven? No. We are told that the young man went away sorrowful. And why? Because he had great possessions – things of this world that he obviously loved more than God and neighbor. To this young man, riches were honor and power. To dispose of such wealth was, for him, an impossibility. He may have truly desired eternal life, but he wanted to retain his wealth. He rejected eternal life for his love of money and power.

How many of us believe in our hearts that we are keeping all of the commandments, just like this young man? Yet keeping the commandments is clearly not the entire ticket to heaven. Had this young man truly have kept all the commandments, he would not have been so attached to the things of this world like money, power, and authority.

Jesus is clear here. This is nothing uncertain or confusing about what He has to say. Had this young man distributed what he owned to provide the necessities of the poor, he would have been much happier. As well, he would have experienced what Jesus called “Treasure in heaven.” Yes – on this earth the young man could experience what he thought was something in the future. For our eternal life begins here, on this earth. And how we deal with what is important to us determines not only how we experience heaven here, but also how we experience heaven in eternity.

This weekly series of brief thoughts on stewardship and Orthodox life is brought to you by your Diocesan Stewardship Commission.

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