And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. (Luke 18:18-27)
Indian priest Anthony de Mello told this story: A rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find a Southern fisherman lying leisurely beside his boat. “Why aren’t you fishing?” asked the industrialist.“Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman.
“Why don’t you catch some more?”
“What would I do with them?”
“You could earn more money,” was the reply. “With that, you could fix a motor to your boat, go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats . . . maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me.”
“What would I do then?”
“Then you could really enjoy life.”
“What do you think I am doing right now?’ said the fisherman.”
What the Rich Man did not know was that he was trapped by the very thing he thought ensured his freedom and security in this life: his attachment to his wealth. Jesus, like a skillful surgeon, isolates the cancer and offers the cure, but the Rich Man was not able to embrace it and he went away sad.
Let’s examine the nature of his disease. Do you remember Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody and Sherman? Mr. Peabody had a time machine called the “Wayback Machine.” In a few minutes we are going to go back in the “Wayback Machine” to the source of the problem. But before we do, we should ask ourselves this question: If I were to ask Jesus the question, “what must I do to be saved,” what would he say? He would do for us what he did for the Rich Man, cut right to the chase.
What is the one thing, the relationship, the possession, the opinion, the belief that I feel I cannot live without? What is the thing that makes me feel most secure in life, that defines who I am, that protects me most from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Is it spouse, family, house, girl or boyfriend, job…what? What am I most afraid of losing? What can I just not give up? That is where the answer lies. Salvation depends on whether or not we can let go of the things we just can’t let go of. It was so for the Rich Man. It is also so for us. What do I have to let go of right now to follow Jesus?
Now, let’s get in the Wayback Machine, set the dials for “metaphorical, prehistory” and watch as Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden. As they leave the gates two cherubim are set there, with flaming swords no less, to keep them from trying to get back in. To understand the deeper implications of this story, we need to stop seeing it as literal, and get psychological about it. The cherubim have two names. The first is “Fear.” The second is “Desire.”
William Blake, in his poem “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” writes, “Remove the cherubim from the gate, and you will see that everything is infinite. You will clean desire and fear from your eyes and will behold everything as a revelation of the Divine.”
Anthony DeMello, again, puts it plainly, “To find the kingdom is the easiest thing in the world but also the most difficult. Easy because it is all around you and within you, and all you have to do is reach out and take possession of it. Difficult because if you wish to possess the kingdom you may possess nothing else.”
When young people, particularly, come to me for advice it is usually about a relationship that is not going well. Often they are overwhelmed with jealousy or fear. The problem is this: you know when a relationship is unhealthy when two things are present: the fear of loss and the desire to control. There are those cherubim again. They show up all over the place. Fear and Desire. A healthy relationship is about love; fear and desire are not love. Let go of them and love can happen. Fear of loss and the desire to control make love impossible.
Often troubled people come to me for advice and even though the solution is right there in front of them and they even recognize it, there is nothing I can say or do that will make them act on it. The decision must come from the heart, the Eden inside, but the cherubim have to be expelled before anything can happen. They often go away like the Rich Man, sad.
If we let go of Fear and Desire we will find that the gate of Eden is opened and unguarded. Eden is a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven, the Land of Absolute Love. Only those who have let go of fear and desire can enter it because only those who Love are able to see it.
The Narrow Path into Paradise is the fearless ability to let go, that is, to accept everything as it is with Radical Acceptance and Unconditional Positive Regard. That is real faith. To let go of the false idea that there is any security in this life and to live each moment to its fullest no matter what it brings because God is in everything. God is enough. This is a central message of the Gospel, of Orthodox spirituality, and, what is more, it is a universal truth that echoes throughout all mystical traditions.
Achaan Chah the Great teacher from Thailand said it like this: “Do everything with a mind that lets go, Do not expect praise or reward. If you let go of a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go of a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”
Let go of “this world” and the kingdom will appear before your very eyes. Let go of fear. Let go of the desire to be in control and Paradise will reveal itself in your very heart.
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 25, 2012
Source: St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge, MA