How can we acquire the grace of God in our hearts?
St Isaac the Syrian said: ‘truly pure in heart are those who regard everyone as clean and who consider no one who exists as unrighteous or corrupt. They see everyone as a saint and all-holy, and they do not discern the righteous from the sinner’. Therefore, if we reach this state which comes from the freedom of life in Christ, if by chance we happen to be ‘stupid’ and ‘blind’ like this, then we will be smart and insightful, and then we will be calm, quiet, weak and almighty by the grace of God.
St Paul said: “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal 2:21).
Setting aside the grace of God is what the rich young ruler had done when he felt sorrowful about the choice he had to make (Lk 18:23). The rich ruler was challenged by Jesus not only to observe the Ten Commandments but also to sacrifice all things and follow Him.
The faith of Christ is not opposed to the works of the law, but is opposed to using works to justify oneself before God. For as Moses looked ahead to Christ (Heb 11:26), so the law is a shadow, an icon, pointing toward Christ Himself who brings life.
The kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is entirely about the power of God at work to heal, liberate and empower all humans beyond death; not about humans accomplishing things for themselves.
But we see in this pericope those who ‘rely on themselves that they are righteous’, and who ‘justify themselves’, and who are ‘lovers of possessions’, it is indeed ‘humanly impossible’ to enter the kingdom. Trust in material possessions for security in one’s existence, even when wealth and possessions are one’s self attributed righteousness, makes it impossible for someone who is called by God to ‘sell everything and give it to the poor’ in order to receive His grace , to be with Him. This response by Jesus to the rich young man is to redirect human praise in favour of God as the source of all being and all goodness.
The rich ruler is not only asked to strip himself of his possessions, but to join the ranks of those who must rely entirely on the mercy of God- like children. He cannot accept the challenge. The sheer greatness of his wealth generates the greatness of his sorrow. However, Jesus’ pronouncement had not said that ‘the wealthy’ found it difficult to enter the kingdom, but those ‘who had possessions’ ‘riches’ (Lk 18:24). It is just as hard to leave family and friends, boats and tax collector’s booth, as it is to leave ‘great wealth’, when it means throwing one’s life completely over to God in faith.
‘’Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’’ (Gal 3:6) St Paul shows that Abraham’s righteousness does not consist in keeping the law, but in believing in God. Righteousness is a heart-centred belief in and obedience to God, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
So the point of the rich man’s disposal of his property was not another ‘good work’ or observance of Torah, but precisely to abandon all possessions in order to receive the good news as one who was poor, simple, or like a child. This pericope is not only about detachment from possessions, but also – how we view ourselves. The kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus is made up of such helpless, useless types as children: the poor, the lame, the blind, and the sinners. We must let nothing stand between us and the message of faith which is the acquisition of the grace of God – to be with Jesus Christ.
In this pericope the rich man symbolises us. We also have everything, talents, ability, friend’s family and so on. And we rely and all these and forget that we have been baptised and have put on Christ, and Christ is in us. We focus on all these external things (how good we are, our businesses, and our achievements) and deny the invitation of Christ who calls us from within our hearts to be with Him. And by doing this we miss out on living a spiritual life, a life of grace, an internal life, a life of not being attached on all external things to make us happy, but being with Christ Who is our joy, our Kingdom and treasure in heaven.
The words of promise concerning those who have left all such things, stands as surety for what was told the ruler: giving away possessions makes a ‘’treasure in heaven’’ (Lk 18:22). Jesus’ response makes it clear that salvation is something that comes from God’s power/grace, received by faith and offered to all – since ‘Nothing is impossible for God’ (Lk 1:37).