St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

What We Don’t Know Hurts Us

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 26, 2012

The reading is from Matthew 19:16-26

The question today is, “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?”  Good question.

What does Jesus say? He says to him, “Keep the commandments.”  When asked to name the ones he must obey, Jesus answers with a short list. “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not tell lies against your neighbor.”

Last year, I noted that at the beginning the Jesus deliberately avoids mentioning the first commandment that has to do with honoring and loving God, but he brings it up at the end when. Worshipping God alone is the supreme commandment in the Old Testament when God was invisible. But now that he has come in the flesh, there is a new variation of it. Jesus says to him, sell your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and come, follow Me. This is the one commandment the man could not embrace.

The problem was simply that the young man was attached to his riches – so attached that he was blinded by their temporal splendor.  The cure was that he should detach from them, but, at this particular point in his life he did not know it was a problem and when Jesus pointed it out,  he could not do it.

I imagine he struggled over it because he “went away sad.” Who knows what happened later?  Everyone of us is asked by the Lord to let go of the things that blind us. How many of us are unable to let go the first, the second, the third, or the fourth time we are asked?  Thank God we have many chances.

Fr. DeMello tells us that “the rich man cannot enter the kingdom of joy not because he wants to be bad but because he chooses to be blind.”  I’m afraid we do, too, for all of us are rich in attachments.

There is a blindness that comes from birth, one that comes from disease or accident, and another that comes from choice.  But I think the last one is not so much a choice, as it is a compulsion.   We are so unconscious of the forces that drive us that most of the choices we make are not free choices.  We make them unconsciously.  We don’t know that we are slaves or what we are enslaved to. Harriet Tubman, the great civil rights activist during the Civil War, wrote that she freed thousands of saves in her time, and could have freed thousands more if they had only known they were slaves.

Thomas Merton says this in a different way.  “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false Self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.”  We are all slaves to something and yet we don’t know it. Awareness is the first step to freedom.  We cannot enter the narrow gate, here represented by the image of the eye of the needle, as long as we are attached to anything earthly, particularly if we do not know that we are.

The rich are usually tied to the fear of not being rich. Fear is behind all attachment.  We only cling to things we think we must have to be safe and secure. So, we must ask ourselves either, “What do I fear the most?” or “What am I afraid of losing?”  Another question we could ask, which points to the cure is, “What must I give up right now to be happy?”

Everyone has their own answer, but the cure is the same.  Recognize the fear and face it.  Our fears cannot be avoided forever. Eventually they surface from the unconscious where we try desperately to bury them.  Maybe that’s why zombie movies are so popular.  All those fearful creatures rising from the grave remind us of what lurks within!  Putting them on screen is easier for us to deal with than actually grappling with them in real time.  As long as they are “up there” and we are eating our popcorn all is right with the world. We still believe we have a place to run.

But rise they most certainly will and from within. God will see to it. The unconscious will see to it. The True self will see to it. The Holy Spirit will see to it. There is no escape. But they are not monsters, they are us.

God loves us so much that he will arrange everything necessary to force a showdown sooner or later.  If we let go of the things we cling to so tightly, we fear that there will be nothing left of us. But what will be left is the truth of who we are. When the garbage is taken out and the smoke screen the mind has set up to fool us lifts, then the Image of God will be all that is left. So, we should give thanks when life gets strange and uncomfortable.  They are gifts from God who wishes to heal us from the inside out.  The rich are able to avoid the discomforts longer than most of us are, but they are necessary to wake us up to the truth of the illusory lives we lead.

The process of deification demands this difficult path of inner healing and transformation and when all is said and done the only thing that will survive this process  is that which is beautiful and true. Ultimately, the things that we believe make us rich, our possessions, our attachments to things in this world, all those exterior things, only serve to  hide the true riches that are within.  We are already rich in the things of God. We just don’t know it.