The young man in the Gospel for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Mat 19:16-26) is rightly preoccupied with attaining entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. The desire of the heart is to be encouraged and applauded. It is, after all, the entire reason for our existence—finding our way to attaining Theosis, ‘clawing’ our way as necessary to achieve our desired homeland.
The place where the applause and the encouragement must cease is in the young man’s focus what appears to be some ill-conceived idea that some thing can be done to gain entry, that God grants entry to those who have some kind of mystical ‘key’, or a secret handshake that permits such entry.
As the man asks our Lord for guidance (again, a totally well-placed request for a righteous desire of the heart), Jesus replies with what the man already knows. Our Lord speaks the Commandments back to him. These are clearly the ‘rules’ with which the young man is familiar. His statement, All these things I have kept from my youth, while again being an ill-conceived response, is nevertheless a representation of the man’s commitment to the goal. His heart truly desires eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven! He wants with all his mind to find the path to be near to God.
But that’s the point. For this young man, the pursuit is an intellectual one, not a spiritual one. In order for the pursuit to become spiritual, it needs to move to another dimension.
The Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 10:21) adds a wonderful dimension to this interplay between Jesus and the young man. St. Mark records, Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him… Our Lord never does anything except from a perspective of love. And so the prescription that follows is wed to the Lord’s love for one so earnestly desiring salvation!
It is for this reason that our Lord gives him “the prescription” that He dispenses—sell all you have and give to the poor. Jesus says, If you want to be perfect. The word used for perfect is the Greek telios, which means “complete” - finished, the final product, the real deal in contemporary terms. In the expression of the Holy Orthodox Church, we’d say that such a one achieving this ‘perfection’ has reached Theosis!
Unfortunately, it is the man’s intellect, the same one that drives him to seek salvation, which now holds him back from achieving the goal. The mind sees the wealth and won’t release it, even for the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven! The man’s spirit has lost, perhaps IS lost from this time forth. His “things” own him—spiritually! The possessions prevent the Lord from entering where His love wishes to go.
Is this not the case with me? Perhaps it’s not possessions. Perhaps it’s food, or judgmentalism, or a general lack of love for neighbor. There are so many “things” to which I can point that would have ME “going away sorrowful” because I’m too intellectually (humanly) tied to them.
The reference to “camel” is one over which many have stumbled . This author won’t attest to having the answer. But one perspective is that the original word was “gamala”. The word “gamal” or “gimel” is the word for the animal. “Gamala” is a word for a heavy rope. Ergo the Lord’s example is to point to the difficulty in threading a heavy rope into a needle.
I am that heavy, coarse rope. Before it’s too late, may our Lord grant me the grace to find a way through His needle’s eye.
And from there, into His kingdom!