August 19, 2019 - Perfection - A Reflection on Matthew 19:16-22
Let us talk about perfection today, because there are a lot of people who strive for perfection in what they do (I must admit I am one of these), but do not know how to apply it in the Christian context. Jesus tells the young man in today’s story: “If you wanna be perfect, go sell everything you have, give the money to the poor; then come, follow me.”
If we just look at this instruction logically, we might get a sense of what Christian perfection really is. Jesus tells the man that if he wants to be perfect, to go and sell his possessions and give them to the poor. Let us assume that we are the rich young man in this story. If we sell our possessions and give them to the poor, are we going to be perfect? Obviously not. So what did Jesus mean then? That in doing this, we would be taking a decisive step, away from the world, towards Christ.
Giving away his possessions was what was required of this man to whom wealth was everything. To another it might be giving up an immoral life. To another it might be surrendering the desire for fame. To yet another it might be stopping a pandering to the desires of the flesh. In a way it signals an important truth: I am serious about wanting perfection. And the next step is accepting the invitation to follow Jesus.
“Follow me,” he said to the rich young man, just as he said to Peter, James, and all the other apostles. Discipleship begins there, in first following Jesus. Secondly, it is learning from him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” (Matthew 11:28) Jesus says. Thirdly, it is emulating what he has taught us. After washing his apostles feet at the Last Supper Jesus said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I have set you an example, you should do as I have done for you” (see John 13:13-15).
Follow. Learn. Live. This is the route toward attaining perfection. Can it be attained. Of course! Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He wouldn’t instruct us to do something we cannot. But we have to understand that he isn’t asking us to replicate God’s flawless moral character, but rather to follow in imitation of his ways. We see how Jesus treats us; then we treat others as he did.
Follow. Learn. Live. Like everything in life, it’s easy once you know how.