Homily – On the Rich Young Man

St. Matthew 19:16-26 Commending our whole life unto Christ our God
[Talk about triathlon yesterday, then segue into the challenges life provides us, then into …] 

We are all going to come to the end of ourselves. Some of you have already been through some seriously difficult times, but not everyone has. One of the things about living in a prosperous country is that we seem to be protected from the kind of challenge that I am speaking of today, the kind that is simply too great for us to handle, the kind that brings us to the end of ourselves.
The psychological mechanism known as “normalcy bias” is really strong [especially in America]. It makes us think that whatever coping mechanisms we have in place – whether they are healthy (e.g. prayer, fasting) or unhealthy (denial, despondency) are enough. It leads us to assume that there is no disaster coming that we cannot handle. That there will be no end to ourselves.
But I must assure you that these coping mechanisms are not enough. I must assure you that there is a disaster coming. And I must assure you that you will come to the end of yourself.
The rich young man was stuck in normalcy bias. He had established the kind of good habits that allowed him to deal well with the challenges of life. He thought this would be enough. Jesus knew that it would not be.
As Christians, we can (and should!) build up habits of faith that will carry us through the kinds of difficult times that would destroy the weak-minded and weak-hearted (i.e. weak-noused). Without these habits our lives would consist of bouncing from one stressor to the next, reacting to them with ad-hoc treatments of self-delusion and self-medication. Our prayer rules, our fasting, our worship, our active participation in the Mysteries of Repentance and Communion, our dedication to family, our parish, and the broader community give us powers of endurance and long-suffering that the non-religious lack.
But even so, will it be enough?
If these are only habits, if they are only disciplines, if they are only part of our “religion”, then they most certainly will not be enough. And when the Great Test comes, we will find that the strength they gave us to endure every grievous trial until then will have dissipated like the morning fog [or the steam on a bathroom mirror]. “For then I saw in a mirror dimly, but now face to face.” Our eyes will be opened to the truth, and it will not be pretty.
What is this great trial? What is this test? It is the Great Judgment, when the sins of all will be laid bare. When we will see not just the filth that has continuously spewed forth from our own lives and how it has contaminated and infected the cosmos, but the filth that has spread forth out of everyone else as well. We will no longer be able to play mind games in order to disassociate ourselves from our guilt: the cold, hard facts will be plain to see, and their import will be impossible to ignore. Can you imagine the agony of this revelation? Can you imagine the agony of this scene played out simultaneously for all our family, friends, lovers, enemies – indeed for all those who have ever been? Can you imagine our grief as we face the sure knowledge that our vile actions make us worthy of nothing but the surest and most inevitable doom?
The trials of this life – no matter how great (and don’t misunderstand me: some are enough to break the heart of any feeling man or woman!) pale in significance when compared to this great trial.
This is why we cannot allow anything to come between us and the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone. This is why the rich man needed to give up everything he had and follow Him. This is why we ourselves need to abandon ourselves completely to his loving embrace. Orthodoxy is not just a religion, it is not just a set of disciplines that can make us strong, it is a personal (and communal) relationship with the God who saves. When truly lived in Christ, the Orthodox Way provides more than strength and comfort in difficult times. The Orthodox Way, with its many component disciplines and Mysteries, provides sure salvation.
Brothers and sisters, we will come to an end of ourselves, but in Christ, this end is only the beginning.