And, behold, one came and said to Him, Good Master, by doing what, shall I inherit eternal life?
If he had come unto Him tempting, he would not have departed sorrowing for what he heard. This was not at any rate ever the feeling of any of the Pharisees, but they grew fierce when their mouths were stopped. But not so this man; but he goes away cast down, which is no little sign that not with an evil will he had come unto Him, but with one too feeble, and that he did indeed desire life, but was held in subjection by another and most grievous feeling.
Therefore when Christ said, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments,” he says, “Which?” Not tempting, far from it, but supposing there were some others besides those of the law that should procure him life, which was like one who was very desirous. Then since Jesus mentioned those out of the law, he says, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.” And neither at this did he stop, but again asks, “What lack I yet?” which itself again was a sign of his very earnest desire.
What then says Christ? Since He was going to enjoin something great, He sets forth the recompenses, and says, “If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven: and come, and follow me.”
Do you see how many prizes, how many crowns, He appoints for this race? If he had been tempting, He would not have told him these things. But now He both says it, and in order to draw him on, He also shows him the reward to be great, and leaves it all to his own will, by all means throwing into the shade that which seemed to be grievous in His advice. Wherefore even before mentioning the conflicts and the toil, He shows him the prize, saying “If you will be perfect,” and then says, “Sell that you have, and give to the poor,” and straightway again the rewards, “You shall have treasure in Heaven; and come, and follow me.” For indeed to follow Him is a great recompense. “And you shall have treasure in Heaven.”
For since his discourse was of money, even of all did He advise him to strip himself, showing that he loses not what he has, but adds to his possessions, He gave him more than He required him to give up; and not only more, but also as much greater as Heaven is greater than earth, and yet more so.
But He called it a treasure, showing the plenteousness of the recompense, its permanency, its security, so far as it was possible by human similitudes to intimate it to the hearer. It is not then enough to despise wealth, but we must also maintain poor men, and above all things follow Christ; that is, do all the things that are ordered by Him, be ready for slaughter and daily death. “For if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” So that to cast away one’s money is a much less thing than this last commandment, to shed even one’s very blood; yet not a little does our being freed from wealth contribute towards this.
“But when the young man heard it, he went away sorrowful.” After this the evangelist, as it were to show that he has not felt anything it was unlikely he should feel, says, “For he had great possessions.” For they that have little are not equally held in subjection, as they that are overflowed with great affluence, for then the love of it becomes more tyrannical. Which thing I cease not always saying, that the increase of acquisitions kindles the flame more, and renders the getters poorer, inasmuch as it puts them in greater desire, and makes them have more feeling of their want.
See, for example, even here what strength did this passion exhibit. Him that had come to Him with joy and forwardness, when Christ commanded him to cast away his riches, it so overwhelmed and weighed down, as not to allow him so much as to answer touching these things, but silenced and become dejected and sullen to go away.
What then says Christ? “How hardly shall the rich enter into the kingdom of Heaven!” blaming not riches but them that are held in subjection by them. But if the rich man hardly, much more the covetous man. For if not to give one’s own be an hindrance to entering the kingdom, even to take of other men’s goods, think how much fire it heaps up.
Why can it have been, however, that He said to His disciples, that hardly shall a rich man enter in, they being poor men, and having no possessions? Instructing them not to be ashamed of their poverty, and, as it were, excusing Himself to them for suffering them to have nothing.
But having said it was hard; as He proceeds, He shows that it is even impossible, and not merely impossible, but even in the highest degree impossible; and this He showed by the comparison concerning the camel and the needle.
“It is easier,” says He, “for a camel to enter in by the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” Whence it is shown, that there is no ordinary reward for them that are rich, and are able to practise self-command. Wherefore also He affirmed it to be a work of God, that He might show that great grace is needed for him who is to achieve this. At least, when the disciples were troubled, He said, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
And wherefore are the disciples troubled, being poor, yea, exceedingly poor? Wherefore then are they confounded? Being in pain about the salvation of the rest, and having a great affection for all, and having already taken upon themselves the tender bowels of teachers. They were at least in such trembling and fear for the whole world from this declaration, as to need much comfort.
Therefore, having first beheld them, He said to them, “The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God.” For with a mild and meek look, having soothed their shuddering mind, and having put an end to their distress (for this the evangelist signified by saying, He beheld them), then by His words also He relieves them, bringing before them God’s power, and so making them feel confidence.
But if you will learn the manner of it likewise, and how what is impossible may become possible, hear. Born either for this end did He say, “The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God,” that you should give it up, and abstain, as from things impossible; but that having considered the greatness of the good work, you should hasten to it readily, and having besought God to assist you in these noble contests, should attain unto life.
3. How then should this become possible? If you cast away what you have, if you empty yourself of your wealth, if you refrain from the wicked desire. For in proof that He does not refer it to God alone, but that to this end He said it, that you should know the vastness of the good work, hear what follows. For when Peter had said, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed You,” and had asked, “What shall we have therefore?” having appointed the reward for them; He added, “And every one who has forsaken houses, or lands, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit eternal life.” Thus that which is impossible becomes possible. But how may this very thing be done, one may say, to forsake these? How is it possible for him that is once sunk in such lust of wealth, to recover himself? If he begin to empty himself of his possessions, and cut off what are superfluous. For so shall he both advance further, and shall run on his course more easily afterwards.
Do not then seek all at once, but gently, and little by little, ascend this ladder, that leads you up to Heaven.
St John Chrysostom