Homily: Threading the Needle

Homily on St. Matthew 19:16-26
15 September 2013

And that thou mightest learn, that not by addition but by taking away this evil is stayed; if thou hadst ever had an absurd desire to fly and to be borne through the air, how wouldest thou extinguish this unreasonable desire? By fashioning wings, and preparing other instruments, or by convincing the mind that it is desiring things impossible, and that one should attempt none of these things? (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 63 on the Gospel according to St. Matthew)

Exegetical reminder: we are the Jews.  God loved them; He loves us.  He loved the rich young man.  He loves you.

So how does this interaction look when we put ourselves into the place of the sincere man who desired salvation?  (retell it, using Orthodox Christian rules in place of Orthodox Jewish ones)

1.  It isn’t about the rich man’s money.  Although he tells him to give it to the poor, it isn’t about them.  Not here.  The poor do not need his money to be saved.  It is about the man’s salvation.  

It isn’t about your money.  Although you should tithe the first ten percent of your income to the Church, it isn’t about your parish.  The Church does not need your money.  It is about your salvation.

2.  It is about getting rid of all those things that separate you from perfection.  The One who created us and heaven and desired that we join Him there tells us with His own mouth;

Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (St. Matthew 19:23-24)

I love this image:  there is a needle hole between us and paradise.  What can you fit through there?  Our riches?  Try as we might, we cannot fit out money bags through there.  We have to let them go.  But this image isn’t really about money.  It’s an image that teaches us the way to joy and perfection.  You cannot put much of anything through that hole!

3.  We have to let go of everything.  We have to empty ourselves.  The way to the perfection requires humility, letting go of all of our fears, our prejudices, even the things that we think are good.  How else can the Lord tell us, in his next breath;

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 receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.  (St. Matthew 19:29)

We cannot fit houses or families or lands through that needle.  We have to let go.  There is only one thing that will fit through that needle: the soul that has been stripped of everything but the image of God within.  And nothing else can push it through the needle but Trust in God.  St. John teaches us that;

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

St. John is not just speaking about belief in a set of facts; after all, demons and even Satan himself recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  The kind of belief that leads to salvation is the kind of belief that provides Trust in what He teaches; belief that is strong enough to follow the Way that He has provided.  This belief, this trust, is what allows us to offer up everything in submission to Him.  This belief, like the good eye and steady hand of the seamstress, is the only thing that can move the humbled soul through that needle.

But what happens next for the man who has given up everything, who has emptied himself completely?  The blessings never end.  You have heard the promises today:  he will receive a hundred times more than he gave up.  He will obtain everlasting life (example of the joy of St. Paul).

But these are not just promises – they are descriptions of a process that was established at the foundation of this world; the intersection between the end of this world and the beginning of the next.  And at every intersection there is a Cross.  The Lord said;

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (St. Matthew 16:24)

How can you be saved?  Tithing is not about the money or paying the parishes bills; daily prayer, coming to Church every Sunday and every feast day is not about your time or helping this parish grow; offering up your relationships, your marriages, your children, your friendships to God is not about your feelings or filling the parish pews:

This is the way of Salvation.  This is the way of Eternal Life.  And God rewards those who follow it a hundredfold.  Give up everything and follow Christ.