“The young man said to him, ‘All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Mt 19:20-21)
I would offer that the word “perfect” in the text from today’s gospel is not the best choice for translation for the underlying Greek word teleios – because of the way we understand the word in English. In Classic Greek and in Scripture the word can indeed mean perfect as, without fault, – but those uses are, by in large, references to sacrificial offerings indicated by religious worship. Outside of those cultic uses, the word means to be complete, whole, developed or adult – and generally points to a future time. One might say it looks forward to a time when maturation is complete. In other words, it has a future reference implied in the word itself.
The only word (that I know of…) in English is “teleology” and its derivative cousins. Teleology: the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose. In the medical world, epidemiology is the study of where the disease came from, its cause. Medically, teleology, is the study of the ultimate end of the disease, how it plays out in time.
If one were to translate the above verses for implied meaning (as opposed to technical translation), one might be on solid ground to offer:
“The young man said to him, ‘All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be grow into complete maturity [as a believer], go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. [With that burden removed] only then come, follow me.”
In other words, selling and giving to the poor is another step on the road to mature belief in Jesus – for this young man.
What’s your next step?