The Wisdom of Riches

Today’s gospel is a familiar one: “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus answers him, citing familiar words from the Commandments. “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”  Jesus responds: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor,…” And the young rich man goes away sad as he had many possessions.

If you wish to be “perfect” – something that echos Matthew 5:48: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The underlying word translated as “perfect” is the Greek teleios. I am not sure that is the best translation for modern-day English. I would suggest a better understanding would be to use the word “complete.”

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The Wisdom of Riches

Today’s gospel is a familiar one: “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus answers him, citing familiar words from the Commandments. “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”  Jesus responds: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor,…” And the young rich man goes away sad as he had many possessions.

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Spiritual Communion

One of the most daunting single verses in Scripture is “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) In the Greek the word used is to be teleios just as our God in heaven in teleios. In our spoken English we take “perfect” to be mean without mistake, without blemish, spot or stain. The challenge comes in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount when we have just been told how to live and understand the commandments, how to live more deeply and more fully. But even if we accept the challenge, we know there are limits to our humanity. We are going to fall short. We will not be perfect. Continue reading

The road to being perfect

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. Continue reading