If You Want to Be Perfect

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 19:16-26, a man comes to Jesus and asks Him:

 “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

Jesus replies by telling the man to keep the commandments, but then adds this:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Not only does this man walk away from Christ, but even His disciples are astounded and ask:

 “Who then can be saved?”

St. Basil the Great comments:

“‘Become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5.48]. Do you see how the Lord restores to us that which is according to the likeness? If you become a hater of evil, free of rancor, not remembering yesterday’s enmity; if you become brother-loving and compassionate, you are like God. If you forgive your enemy from your heart, you are like God. If as God is toward you, the sinner, you become the same toward the brother who has wronged you, by your good will from your heart toward your neighbor, you are like God.’

Note:  In Basil’s theology the ascetical practice of both outwardly displaying virtue and inwardly cultivating a disposition of a godly attitude, from which right action springs, reforms the likeness. Modeling ourselves after the gratuitous precepts of Christ reorders and rejoins the likeness to the image. Thus, he exhorts the reader “to put on Christ,” because “drawing near to him is drawing near to God. Thus the creation story is an education in human life. “Let us make the human being in our image.” Let him have by his creation that which is according to the image, let him also come to be according to the likeness. For this God gave the power.”    (On the Human Condition, p. 44)

According to Genesis 1:26,  “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .’”  Because the Church Fathers thought every word of Scripture was significant, they believed that the image and likeness were two different things.  Each human is made in the image of God – each of us in a mysterious way is an icon of God.   But, we were not made as perfect beings – we co-create ourselves with God – we have to choose to be in God’s likeness, and we have to work on that.  That is the point of asceticism and self denial, that we make ourselves conform to the likeness of God – to become more Christlike.  We become more perfectly human when we deny our self, our passions, and become more like Christ – loving, merciful, forgiving.

If we live just according to what we often think of as our human nature, we live just according to the nature we inherited from Adam.  But this is not perfect human nature.  We have to strive to be perfect as God is perfect.  That is why Jesus concluded today’s Gospel lesson with the words:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

St. Paul teaches us this same lesson with his words:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.   (1 Corinthians 15:45-50)

2 thoughts on “If You Want to Be Perfect

  1. Yes, only with God is it possible to strive to be like Him and do what Christ modeled for us of love to all peoples. Human nature has us look at what is different to us as a survival of our ‘kind’. Christ and His likeness find connections in all peoples, places, and living and innate things as being part of His Kingdom. In our humble and sinful way, that is the course we follow to pray for repentance in America and a Monastery that can model being for ALL people. Please help us in this prayer and work. We are at a turning point to keep our home and New Tikhvin Skete of the Holy Mother of God in Palm Coast, Florida.

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