September 1st is the first day of the New Ecclesiastical Year, and with it a sense of newness. A new calendar, a new series of Gospel lessons, a new cycle of Feast of Christ and the Theotokos, but most of all it brings us a sense of reflection on the end, not of summer but of our time on earth.
The Gospel lessons at the end of summer are filled with reference to the end of time, the kingdom of heaven, and eternal life. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19.16) This all-too-often question initiates a conversation with Jesus during which some people are filled with joy, while others “went away very sorrowful” (Matthew 19.22). What could cause such a drastic difference in the reaction to Jesus’ message?
The common denominator EVERY time someone departs Jesus sorrowful is, SELFISHNESS. It was because King Herod was selfish for power that he murdered thousands of innocent infants after he heard of Jesus’ birth. It was because the Scribes and Pharisees were selfish for the power of Rome that they betrayed their own Savior to be crucified. And it was because the rich man “had great possessions” that went away sorrowful at the words of Jesus.
Selfishness ALWAYS gets in the way of our relationships, between us and God, and among our fellow human beings. It was to help us defeat selfishness that God first established the commandments. So when Jesus answered, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” (Matthew 19.17) He wasn’t suggesting that merely keeping a set of rules would get anyone into heaven. It was THROUGH following the commandments that selfishness is defeated. THEN, once we have defeated selfishness, we can enter into eternal life free to love God above all others.