Sermon by Archbishop Andrew Rymarenko
“It will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” said Christ to His disciples. If you recall, last Sunday these same words appeared at the end of the Gospel reading. A young man approached Christ and asked, What should I do in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? Then the Lord answered him: Fulfill the commandments. And when the young man said that he had already done this, then the Lord, seeing his heart, said: Give away whatever you have. But the young man was rich, and for him his riches were the power that gave him status in society, and therefore he bent his head and walked away. Here Christ said to His disciples: “Truly I say unto you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 19:16-23).
How is this? Why? If you take today’s Gospel reading, then you will see why. The parable for today tells us how the Lord planted a vineyard and sent his slaves to work in this vineyard (Mt. 21:33-42). And he gave them everything needed for their lives. But the slaves enjoyed living and laboring in this vineyard so much that they began to feel that the place belonged to them. More and more they began to consider as their own all the prosperity which they were able to get from the grapes which grew so abundantly in the vineyard that did not belong to them; and they gradually began to forget the owner of the vineyard. The Lord gave them everything necessary for their maintenance, for their life, but they began to take it for granted. They had a different understanding: they had the opportunity to use the vineyard and all the beauty of these earthly goods which God gives to man. This captivated them so much, that they completely forgot, or better to say, they did not give a thought to the fact that all this was temporary; and that years would pass, and the hour would come when they would have to leave, and everything in the vineyard would remain here, but they would depart. You see, something different was required of them: while cultivating the vineyard, they should have cultivated also that which was given to man.
And what was actually given to man? A human being has a body that requires food, drink, motion, rest — the things that we call the life of the body. But man also has a spirit that always strives for the ideal. And no matter how good our earthly life might be — and it can be so good that it couldn’t be better, as if nothing else existed — in a human heart will always stir that which cannot be satisfied by things surrounding us. And sadness will appear, and the conscience will say that he did not do the right thing, because the image of God is in every human being, in his spirit; and the spirit also requires life.
Bodily, the vineyard workers were all right, but the spiritual life they twisted and lived according to the flesh. And through this, the conscience was suppressed. The conscience did exist but it was covered up. And here is proven what was said to the young man: it is hard for someone who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Eyes are closed, conscience is darkened. Outwardly, he appears to be in a good state, but inwardly conscience is tormenting and tormenting. No hopes, no comfort. And so the human being tries everything. He says to himself: I will go to a resort, will go traveling, will create for myself all comforts. I will arrange my family life, will have children. I will enjoy myself. But here, at best, old age will come; but at worst — sickness. When these critical days come, nothing can appease. No matter how much earthly beauty or how many earthly goods we have — conscience will torment us. This is what today’s parable expresses. The slaves even killed the heir so as not to give up the enjoyment of the vineyard. But banishment from the vineyard still occurred. How? This is what we call suffering of conscience which nothing can appease. Anguish — anguish with no way out.
So today’s Gospel in a way supplements last week’s Gospel and says to us: Brothers, take care that this doesn’t happen to you, that the earthly beauty in which we live does not change into this vineyard of the parable! What do we need this vineyard for, these villas, automobiles, if our heart is being torn apart? Let us start to live according to the Beatitudes, and then our heart will be filled with peace, love, the breath of paradise. And with this fullness of heart, we will pass over into Eternal Life. But if we do not understand ourselves, we will be like the Jews. The Jews awaited the messiah who, according to the understanding of the Talmud, must be the ruler of the world and conquer everyone under the yoke of the Jews. And they waited for such a messiah. And when Christ appeared — Who had all the powers: He calmed the sea, He filled five thousand people with five loaves of bread, and healed sicknesses — in their understanding of that time it would have been impossible to find a better commander for the Jewish army. There would be no need for a commissary, food stocks, first aid stations, or hospitals. Christ could do everything. And they waited.. .to see what would happen next.
And Christ ascended a mountain and for the first time started to speak publicly: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who weep, blessed are the meek, those who are persecuted (Mt. 5:3-11). The Jews expected power, might; but Christ spoke about poverty, meekness, sufferings. Of course, the Jews had to turn away. Christ was speaking about something quite different from what they were expecting — not about dominion. What if one followed in His footsteps? What would happen? They were bewildered.
What will happen will be exactly what we need: there will be peace of heart with which it is easy to go through this life and not fear to enter Eternal Life.