In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us about the importance of the ten commandments. In other places, Jesus clearly expresses the greatest or most important commandments – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” This young man must have been familiar with the commandments, but must have had a difficult time actually putting them into practice. Sometimes we don’t sin simply because we are afraid of the consequences. If we knew we could get away with something wrong, we might not be able to resist the temptation. It would seem that Jesus is drawing attention to this fact when He restates the commandments. The young man is looking for something else to do before he has seriously applied himself to the commandments. Jesus says that simply nourishing anger in our hearts against our brother is akin to murder. He says that even an impure glance is condemned by the commandment against adultery.
The young man is looking for a way to perfection in holiness, but he has not accepted the work of rooting out sin buried in his heart. The sign of this is how he goes away sad. Greed plays a more important role in his life than he was willing to admit. But by sending him back to his fleshly possessions, Jesus has invited him to consider his idolatry seriously. No one can serve both God and money – if this rich young man can decide to give his heart to God instead of to his wealth, he can become free to follow Jesus in truth. When we begin to wonder what we could possibly bring to confession, although it is possible strictly speaking for humans to live without sin, the Lord can help us see what continues to hold us prisoner. Our sins might make us sad, but if we have the humility to recognize them and the will to turn away, Jesus can set us free.
You can see, therefore, that it was not only through his apostles that God “delivered” sinners “over to their enemies,” but even now, through those who govern the church and have the power not only of releasing but also of binding, sinners “are delivered for the destruction of the flesh” when they are separated from the body of Christ for their crimes.1
For this life is loved, whatever its quality; and however troubled it is, however wretched, people are afraid to end it. Hence we should see, we should consider, how much eternal life is to be loved, when this miserable life that must at some time be ended is so loved. Consider, brothers, how much that life is to be loved when it is a life you never end. You love this life, where you work so much, run, are busy, pant. In this busy life the obligations can scarcely be counted: sowing, plowing, working new land, sailing, grinding, cooking, weaving. And after all this hard work your life comes to an end. Look at what you suffer in this wretched life that you so love. And do you think that you will always live and never die? Temples, rocks, marbles, all reinforced by iron and lead, still fall. And a person thinks that he will never die? Learn therefore, brothers, to seek eternal life, when you will not endure these things but will reign with God forever.2
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
When Christ says to him, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” the man expects him to add immediately, “my commandments.” “Which ones?” he asks. He was quite deceived in his expectation. For Christ did not answer him as he expected but simply pointed him to the law. This is not because the law is perfection, for “no one is justified by the law,” as it is written, but because the life lived according to law is a kind of introduction to the eternal life, briefly acquainting trainees to the things above. “For the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ.” The law is the starting point for social justice. Christ is the perfection. For the beginning of good is to act justly, he says. Just action then is shown by the law, but goodness is shown by Christ.3
These commandments are sufficient for someone entering on the ground level of the path of eternal life. But they are not sufficient to lead one to the higher life, and certainly not to perfection. One who fails in just one of these commandments cannot even enter the beginnings of life. Anyone who wishes to enter the early stages of the path of life must be free from adultery and murder and any kind of theft. For just as the adulterer and murderer will not enter into life, so neither will the thief. Many of those who are said to believe in Christ are guilty of this sin. Just look at their daily business and the way money is entrusted to them and the crafts they practice.4
What he heard, we too have heard. The Word of Christ is the gospel. He sits in heaven, but he does not cease to speak on earth. Let us not be deaf, for he shouts. Let us not be dead, for he thunders. If you are not willing to do the greater commandments, do the lesser ones. If the burden of the greater is too much for you, take up the lesser. Why are you slow to do either? Why do you oppose both? The greater commandments are “Sell everything that you have and give to the poor and follow me.” The lesser are “You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not steal; honor your father and mother; love your neighbor as yourself.” So do these things. Why do I shout to you that you must sell your possessions when I cannot get you to admit that you should not take someone else’s? You have heard, “You shall not steal.” You rob. Before the eyes of so great a judge, I now hold you not a thief but a robber. Spare yourself; pity yourself. This life still gives you time. Don’t reject reproof. Yesterday you were a thief; do not also be one today. Perhaps you have also been one today? Do not be one tomorrow. Sometime end your sin and expect good reward. You want to have your goods, but you are unwilling to be good. Your life is contrary to your hopes. If it is a great good to have a good house, how great an evil is it to have an evil soul?5
HILARY OF POITIERS:
But the young man, when he heard this, “went away sorrowful.” For he put great trust in wealth. And in him we observe the rational working out of a metaphor. This was a young man. He himself said that since his youth he had obeyed the commandments that are contained in the law. Yet an arrested adolescence remains within his youth, whatever age he may be.6
- HOMILIES ON JUDGES 2.5. Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (p. 106). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 84.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 98–99). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 99). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 15.13. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 100). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 85.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 100). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON MATTHEW 19.7. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 101). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.