Jgs 2:11-19; Ps 106:34-44; Mt 19:16-22
Do you wish to be perfect? Now there’s a question. Few would dare to admit such a desire. Yet it is the desire for perfection that motivates our constant movement toward the Lord, Our God. Young men and women of every generation must deal with this question. The reform of monastic life and relentless recruitment of novices for the monastery still has an impact on the inner life of the church. Still, young men and women, who desire perfection in Christ, present themselves at the door of the monastery. This is the only kind of perfection that is worth spending one’s whole life pursuing. This is in fact the goal and purpose of the life of everyone who is baptized and confirmed. At the time of the Judges, between the arrival at the Promised Land and the anointing of the first king Saul, the children of Israel were constantly abandoning the LORD and turning to the gods of the nations around them. They had little desire to perfect their relationship with the God of their salvation; instead they would not relinquish any of their evil practices or stubborn behavior. The Lord Jesus takes great delight instructing the young man who seeks eternal life. He seeks perfection, but goes away sad when he hears the cost of discipleship.
The LORD, God Almighty, rescued his people from bondage in Egypt, but their hearts were not entirely free from the bondage of idolatry. Even after forty years of painful growth in the desert they were still far from perfect. They did not uphold their side of the covenant. The Lord God gave them a command to exterminate the peoples not just because they would be tempted to mingle with the nations around about them, but also because these nations refused to mend their ways. Their “no-gods” were the inspiration for a lifestyle of self-destruction. These gods, Ashtaroth and Baal, demanded temple prostitution and child sacrifice. Because of the cult of these idols people, both Israelites and non-Israelites, lived in fear and terror. These false gods enslaved them. These foreign gods promised fertility and victory over enemies, but they demanded the degradation of women and the destruction of sons. The children of Israel were subject to all the cruelty of their neighbors because they would not trust in the LORD. God’s command of extermination was not an arbitrary act of violence; it was a judgment provoked by the senseless disrespect of women and the horrific sacrifice of children. The peoples of these city-states had heard of the power of the LORD in bringing his people out of slavery, but unlike Rahab in Jericho they refused to change their ways. At one time Jonah’s preaching to the pagans of Nineveh was a great success, but not all were converted. Who you serve and what you worship makes you who you are.
The Law of the Lord was a liberating guide for the children of Israel. The young man who approached the Lord Jesus seeking eternal life wanted to live forever with God. This is possible only if you live in this life with respect for all around you: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Certainly this young man lived a moral life that flowed out of his love for the God of the Covenant. However, he longed for much more, even in this life. He longed to be perfect. Such perfection comes only with total trust. Such perfection demands giving up all self-reliance and finding confidence in God alone. Only when we have given all to the poor do we have treasure in heaven. Such demands are too costly for we are still possessed by our many possessions. The monastic way of life is one way to give all away and follow the Lord Jesus. One does not have to be a monk or a nun to seek perfection. One only has to turn from all the false gods that dominate our world and invade our hearts. At this Eucharist we become one with the Lord Christ who feeds our desire for perfection with the perfect sacrifice of his Body and Blood. Human perfection is only possible in Christ, who is both divine and human, perfectly.