Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?
Those who are godless neglect to praise and glorify God, who is alone perfect and good, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, and for whom are all things, Romans 11:36.
Wealth is of itself enough to puff up and corrupt the souls of its possessors, and to turn them from the path by which salvation is to be attained, it puts them in little or no sensibility, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises. For to him who exalts and magnifies himself is sure to fall, as the divine word teaches. The reason of salvation appearing more difficult to the rich than to poor men, is not single but manifold. Those who hear the Savior say, that 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 heaven, Matthew 19:24 despair of themselves and try to cling to the present life as if it alone was left to them, and so depart more from the way to the life to come. Whom does the Lord and Master calls rich? or how that which is impossible to man becomes possible to God.
We must not despair, and show others with the necessary explanation of the Lord that the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven is not quite cut off from them if they obey the commandments. Like any other contest, we need to enlist our names for the contest. But if we give up, then we don’t stand a chance. So let not the man that has been invested with worldly wealth proclaim himself excluded at the outset from the Savior’s lists, nor let him, on the other hand, expect to grasp the crowns of immortality without struggle and effort. And going forth into the way, one approached and kneeled, saying, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit everlasting life? And Jesus says, Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. You know the commandments. And he answering says to Him, All these have I observed. And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him, and said, One thing you lack. If you would be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he was rich, having great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and says to His disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And they were astonished out of measure, and said, Who then can be saved? And He, looking upon them, said, What is impossible with men is possible with God. For with God all things are possible.
The Savior teaches nothing in a merely human way, but teaches all things to His own with divine and mystic wisdom. We must not listen to His utterances carnally; but with due investigation and intelligence must search out and learn the meaning hidden in them. And having been called good, and taking the starting note from this first expression, He commences His teaching with this, turning the pupil to God, the good, and first and only dispenser of eternal life, which the Son, who received it of Him, gives to us. The greatest and chiefest point of the instructions which relate to life must be implanted in the soul from the beginning—to know the eternal God, the giver of what is eternal, and by knowledge and comprehension to possess God, who is first, and highest, and one, and good. For ignorance of Him is death; but the knowledge and appropriation of Him, and love and likeness to Him, are the only life.
The rich man is perfectly persuaded that he is righteous, and with reference to the law, he carries confidence. Jesus, accordingly, does not charge him with not having fulfilled all things out of the law, but loves him, and fondly welcomes his obedience in what he had learned; but says that he is not perfect as respects eternal life. Being the doer of the law is indeed good. For the commandment is holy. Romans 7:12. For God compels not (for compulsion is repugnant to God), but supplies to those who seek, and bestows on those who ask, and opens to those who knock. The rich man lacked one thing which abides, the good, that which is now above the law, who had fulfilled all the demands of the law from his youth but was not able to complete the whole with this one thing which was specially required by the Savior. But he departed displeased, vexed at the commandment of the life. And he was capable of busying himself about many things; but the one thing, the work of life, he was powerless, and disinclined, and unable to accomplish. What does— Sell your possessions mean? Jesus was not asking him to throw away all that he possessed and abandon his property but He was asking him to banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his excitement and the anxieties. It is not the outward act, but something greater, more godlike, more perfect, the stripping off of the passions from the soul itself and from the disposition, and the cutting up by the roots and casting out of what is alien to the mind. Some gave up all their property, but the passions of the soul, the lust for money intensified. Riches, which benefit our neighbors, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, useful and are provided by God for the use of men, if we use it skillfully. So becoming virtuous and good, we may be able to make a good use of these riches. The renunciation, then, and selling of all possessions, is to be understood as spoken of the passions of the soul.
Even after giving up our property, if the passions still remain then it is not beneficial at all. If therefore he who casts away worldly wealth can still be rich in the passions, even though the material is absent, it is then of no advantage to him to be poor in purse while he is rich in passions. To the pure in heart, He now becomes the way. But into the impure soul the grace of God finds no entrance. And that (soul) is unclean which is rich in lusts. But he who carries his riches in his soul, and instead of God’s Spirit bears in his heart gold or land, and is always acquiring possessions without end, and is perpetually on the outlook for more. When can he be able to desire and to mind the kingdom of heaven? For where the mind of man is, there is also his treasure. Salvation does not depend on external things, whether they be many or few, small or great; but on the virtue of the soul, on faith, and hope, and love, and brotherliness, and knowledge, and meekness, and humility, and truth, the reward of which is salvation. A poor and destitute man may be found intoxicated with lusts; and a man rich in worldly goods temperate, poor in indulgences, trustworthy, intelligent, pure, chastened.
The cause of the issue is in the state and disposition of the soul in respect of obedience to God and purity, and in respect of transgression of the commandments and accumulation of wickedness. He then is truly and rightly rich who is rich in virtue, and is capable of making a holy and faithful use of any fortune. To him who is poor in worldly goods, but rich in vices, who is not poor in spirit and rich toward God, it is said, Abandon the alien possessions that are in your soul, that, becoming pure in heart, you may see God; which is another way of saying, Enter into the kingdom of heaven. And how may you abandon them? By selling them, by introducing instead of what was formerly inherent in your soul, which you desire to save, other riches which deify and which minister everlasting life, dispositions in accordance with the command of God; for which there shall accrue to you endless reward and honor, and salvation, and everlasting immortality. The wealthy and legally correct man, not understanding these things figuratively, nor how the same man can be both poor and rich, and have wealth and not have it, and use the world and not use it, went away sad and downcast, leaving the state of life, which he was able merely to desire but not to attain, making for himself the difficult impossible. For it was difficult for the soul not to be seduced and ruined by the luxuries and flowery enchantments that beset remarkable wealth; but it was not impossible, even surrounded with it, for one to lay hold of salvation, provided he withdrew himself from material wealth—to that which is grasped by the mind and taught by God, and learned to use things indifferent rightly and properly, and so as to strive after eternal life. And the disciples even themselves were at first alarmed and amazed. Why were they so on hearing this? Was it that they themselves possessed much wealth? Nay, they had long ago left their very nets, and hooks, and rowing boats, which were their sole possessions. Why then do they say, Who can be saved? Because they had not yet wholly renounced the passions, they were excessively astonished, and despaired of themselves no less than that rich man who clung so terribly to the wealth which he preferred to eternal life. It was therefore a fit subject for all fear on the disciples’ part; if both he that possesses wealth and he that is teeming with passions were the rich, and these alike shall be expelled from the heavens. For salvation is the privilege of pure and passionless souls.
But the Lord replies, what is impossible with men is possible with God. This again is full of great wisdom. For a man by himself working and toiling at freedom from passion achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself very desirous and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. For God conspires with willing souls. But if they abandon their eagerness, the spirit which is bestowed by God is also restrained. For to save the unwilling is the part of one exercising compulsion; but to save the willing, that of one showing grace. Nor does the kingdom of heaven belong to sleepers and sluggards, but the violent take it by force. For this alone is commendable violence, to force God, and take life from God by force. And He, knowing those who persevere firmly, or rather violently, yields and grants. For God delights in being vanquished in such things. Therefore on hearing those words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Savior paid tribute, Matthew 17:27 quickly seized and comprehended the saying. And what does he say? Lo, we have left all and followed You. Now if by all he means his own property, he boasts of leaving four oboli perhaps in all, and forgets to show the kingdom of heaven to be their recompense. But if, casting away what we were now speaking of, the old mental possessions and soul diseases, they follow in the Master’s footsteps, this now joins them to those who are to be enrolled in the heavens.
If one chooses to continue and to sin perpetually in pleasures, and values indulgence here above eternal life, and turns away from the Saviour, who gives forgiveness; let him no more blame either God, or riches, or his having fallen, but his own soul, which voluntarily perishes. But to him who directs his eye to salvation and desires it, and asks with boldness and vehemence for its bestowal, the good Father who is in heaven will give the true purification and the changeless life. To whom, by His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord of the living and dead, and by the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour, power, eternal majesty, both now and ever, from generation to generation, and from eternity to eternity. Amen.