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Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday of Luke

Archimandrite Kyril Jenner

Luke 18: 18-27

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)

Over the years there have been many attempts to interpret this saying as referring to something other than its literal meaning. Some suggested, for instance, that “the eye of a needle” referred to a particular narrow mountain pass, and so a camel passing through the eye of a needle would refer to something difficult but quite feasible with a bit of effort. Others have suggested that “camel” was a colloquial term for a ship’s rope, and so the comparison was being made between an ordinary thread (which goes fairly easily through the eye of a needle) and a thick rope which would not. There is no evidence to support these interpretations. We must take our Lord’s words at face value.

The world around us has for many years prized earthly wealth as the goal to aim for and as the means to happiness. Following this path leads only to a superficial happiness at best. It ignores the higher things and leads us away from God. True and deep happiness can only come from a life lived with God and for God. This is the point of the dialogue in today’s Gospel reading, between our Lord and the rich ruler.

By earthly standards the ruler had everything that could be desired. He had all that he could want in the way of material possessions, and outwardly he lived a respectable moral life. But he was aware that something was missing. He lacked “eternal life”. He lacked a life filled with God. His reaction to our Lord’s instruction shows, however, that seeking eternal life was not his highest priority. His wealth took precedence over God in his life.

For many people this is a problem in their lives. While they may not have vast riches they often have more than they need (even though that may be less than they think they want). If we have enough, well and good. If we have more than enough, then we can use our resources in the service of God: helping those in need, supporting the church, working for the benefit of our fellow humans, and so on. This requires us to make service to God our priority.

We must recognize that all that we have comes from God. He loves us and he knows us and he knows our real needs. We need to show our love for God in return.

A good approach to this is to detach ourselves from our possessions, to regard them not as ours to use as we wish, for our own selfish ends, but instead to regard ourselves as stewards of what has been given to us, so that we may use our possessions in the service of God and hold ourselves accountable to him for what we do. The problem for the rich ruler was that he could not take this step. He was effectively possessed by and a slave to his riches.

We can only take this step with God’s help. If we truly seek salvation, if we truly seek eternal life, then we must put our trust in God, and make service to him a priority in all that we do, and not just in the basic outward things, like the rich ruler. As St Theophylact says: “With God’s help, when a man has God as his Counsellor, and takes as his teachers the judgements of God and his commandments concerning non-possession, and calls on God for help, then it is possible to be saved. We, for our part, must desire what is good; God will then accomplish and perfect it in us.” (St Theophylact of Ochrid, “Explanation of the Holy Gospel according to Luke”)