The Way

If thou wouldst be perfect.

— St. Matthew 19:21

The youth is looking for some unknown good thing to do, and the Lord sends him back to the doing of what he knows, and that in answer to his question concerning the way to eternal life. He has already more than hinted where the answer lies, namely, in God himself, but that the youth is not yet capable of receiving; he must begin with him farther back: “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.” For verily, if the commandments have nothing to do with entering into life, why were they ever given to men? They are the beginning of the way. If a man had kept all those commandments, yet would he not therefore have in him the life eternal; nevertheless, without keeping of the commandments there is no entering into life; the keeping of them is the path to the gate of life. It is not life, but it is the way to it.

The Lord says nothing about the first table of the law: why does he not tell this youth as he did the lawyer, that to love God is everything? He had given him a glimpse of the essence of his own life, had pointed the youth to the heart of all, for him to think of afterwards: he was not ready for it yet. To love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, is to know God, and to know him is eternal life. But to begin with that would be as sensible as to say to one asking how to reach the top of some mountain, “Just set your foot on that shining snow-clad peak, high there in the blue, and you will at once be where you wish to go.”

Commentary

All These Things I Have Done...
by Dave Roney

The rich young man enters the presence of Christ with the one burning question; “What,” he asks, “must I do?”  From his youth onward this young man has been doing that which is good, and increasingly so as I would suppose; God is pleased when any man does the good, even if that man were an infidel, and were not God pleased then the Son, ever obedient and faithful to the One Who is Good, would have, as He Who has the words of Life, told the rich young man God was displeased.  God is extremely easy to please, though extremely difficult to satisfy.  Yet Christ speaks nothing of either criticism or correction.  The man has asked the wrong question; why does not the Lord tell him so and suggest the right question, then answer it for him?

I surmise that the young man had looked to the priests, scribes, and Pharisees as his role models; these were, to his understanding, the closest and best among men as the reflections of the nature of God.  All these were diligent doers of the Law, even having nuanced the Commandments so that no crumb of it should fall from the table of their orthodoxy.  They were, in fact, blind leaders of the blind; both they and the young man who followed after them had fallen into the spiritual ditch.  Both leaders and led had seen Christ, heard Him, yet having eyes they could not see, and had ears which could not hear.  They were wrong, and thus the young man's question, rising from such a bondage to legalism, was also wrong.  Yet he did not, could not, know himself wrong. 

Whereas the hearts and minds of his spiritual guides were alike impenetrable, their minds closed to Light and their hearts to Life, such was not the condition of the young man, or at least not to their degree.  For though with his mind he thought his duty to God was to do, by his heart there was the inner cry of what he first must be, yet, for all his good deeds, was not.  And that which he did not possess he did not know to possess, only that there was something better, higher, more, which he must have—and in Christ Jesus alone he had detected that nebulous something.  How shall our Lord bring him to see and know the primacy of being before doing?  He shall meet the young man where he is, must begin from that point and no other; for to address the man on a higher plane which the man was not yet ready or able to ascend would have been futile.  The interaction between the two is exemplary of God's method of accommodating man, or, as one might say, that God puts the cookies on the bottom shelf where the little children can reach them.

Think of the rich young man's question in the 16th verse; “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Buried within the question is a key to understanding the man's thinking; he does not as “what good deeds must I do” but what single, particular, superlative “deed.”  He realizes that the entirety of his good deeds is sufficient, that there is some unknown good required of him.  Note also the reply of Jesus, for He names no single commandment but instead names six among the Decalogue.  The young man is by now frustrated; “But I've kept all these!  Yet there is still something missing!  What do I lack?”  The Lord has been leading the man, using the man's understanding, to bring him to a final good deed—not that any such deed is the answer—but because it is all the man can at that point understand; “Go,” He says, “sell all you possess, give the proceeds to the poor and then follow Me!”

What the Lord has not told the man is that even if he gave away all his holdings, even the robe on his back, he would be no nearer the Kingdom of God than had he not; for such would have been but one more instance of doing; the man must first be something which he is not yet else his doing would come to naught as God counts things.  The key is also found in the Lord's reply; “Come, follow Me!”  But the young man had ears which could not hear that crucial commandment, that, in it was both doing (“Come”) and being (“follow Me”).  How could he then know that to follow Christ in simple, childlike, obedience is to keep the essence of the commandments and be found pleasing to God?  The man would do the good; God through Christ is offering Him the only thing He can offer to any and every person, His best.

“If a man kept all those commandments, yet would he not therefore have in him the life eternal; nevertheless, without keeping of the commandments there is no entering into life; the keeping of them is the path to the gate of life.  It is not life, but it is the way to it.”

“If you would be perfect” says our Lord; He has prescribed obedience to six of the Commandments without reference to the first four of them; Why is this?

“Why does He not tell this youth as He did the lawyer [Matthew 22:37], that to love God is everything?  He had given him a glimpse of the essence of His own life, had pointed the youth to the heart of all, for him to think of afterwards: he was not ready for it yet.  To love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, is to know God, and to know Him is eternal Life.  But to begin with that would be as sensible as to say to one asking how to reach the top of some mountain, 'Just set your foot on the shining snow-clad peak, high there in the blue, and you will at once be where you wish to go'.”

Be Perfect?  What does that even mean?  Certainly not as synonymous with the Perfections of the only good God, nor is that what the Lord intended.  I am not even sure it is the same word our Lord employed, speaking in Aramaic, translated later from the Apostle's memory into the Koine, subsequently into all other tongues including our own, with subtle changes in meaning spanning across centuries and cultures—I am not sure of it.  But as near as I can determine His use of this word within the present context means completeness, as that of a youth who has come into full adulthood.  It is the same maturing, or perfection, I find in St. Paul's description of himself;

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor. 13:11)

God is, in this sense, ever mature, this so because of His eternal Childlikeness; not given to selfishness or spite, to any false vaunting of Self or vanity, but in an ever outward going perfection of selfless Love and Devotion to others; and this is the perfection of the Divine Adulthood to which Christ beckons the still childish young man.  Did Christ expect the man, to be perfect, to literally sell all he had and give it away?  I think not, no more so than did He in another place mean literally that if a man's eye caused him to stumble he should gouge it out. He called the young man to “Come, and follow Me,” which is to say become like Him; our Lord came to give away more than material wealth, more than any thing a man might possess, to give away His very Life, first in personal agony and then in the joy of resurrection Life for and extended to all.

The rich young man was then still, in a manner of speaking, trapped in his spiritual boyhood, had come to the age where he ought to have put away the toyish things of superficial and ineffectual Lawful doing to step into the full manhood of Christ, to first become like Him and then, in light of that, to do as He does.  The man went away sorrowful for at least two reasons.  First, because his own childishness which he was not yet ready to give up had been exposed to him and, second, because He had finally seen what true Life and therefore living is: 

“He had given him a glimpse of the essence of His own Life, had pointed the youth to the Heart of all, for him to think of afterwards: He was not ready for it yet.  To love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, is to know God, and to know Him is eternal life.”

In summation, several observations drawn from imagination.  First, I see the young fellow as what I would call a “temple-man.”  That is, I see him as one who frequented the synagogues throughout Israel, thus also that he was devout.  And that he went to the synagogues, and since he was a man of means, I suppose him to have been a traveler, perhaps being about his father's worldly business even as our Lord was about His Father's business.  And, in light of these things, that he did not come to Jesus that day accidentally but, rather, had sought Him out: For, in the course of his travels would he not have aforehand seen the Christ and heard Him speak?  I feature him as being among the multitude gathered for the Sermon on the Mount; who also heard the Lord's debate with the religious leaders; that he had seen lepers cleansed and the blind receive their sight.

Then a final thought concerning him.  I see him in the streets of Jerusalem on Good Friday, again at the mount called Golgotha, see him as well coming to the Lord under the preaching of Peter following the Spirit-Flame event of Pentecost.  I see him soon to be perfect even as his Father in heaven is perfect.  Even as you and I are likewise called to be.  And from that state of being shall we naturally and normally be doing the works of our Father, even as does His Son... 

Little Children, Little Cups
by Dave Roney

As I survey this wonderful, gentle, and heart stirring sermon, my heart is captured by the delight which comes from knowing, more surely than any other thing which can be known, that our Heavenly Father loves us as His dear little children.  And the astounding thing about that love is that He loves us without regard to our condition.  When we say that He loves us too much to leave us as we are, it is also to say that He loves us too much as we are, with supra-abounding Love; for His is not a coming love, not a growing love, nor is it a contingent love, in any way dependent upon what He discovers in us, either now in time or in the life which follows.  Our Father is ever, eternally, completely and perfectly sending out His love, sending it in billows higher than the heavens, as an awful tide flooding over and burying the works of His hands in its shoreless, plumbless, depths.

ow does He best love, in the perfections of Love, His little children?  They, errant and wandering, their little faces smudged and their fingers dirty, playing in the mud and laughing?  Or weeping?  Broken, despairing, dying while they yet live for lack of higher life?  Praising Him, railing against Him, reaching little arms up to Him, pushing Him away, loving Him, denying Him, sundry shapes of their small hearts, swelling, collapsing, yearning and pining, languishing and lusting, deadened to His call, hearing the Voice within, by degree, imperfectly, inconsistently, filled with Self, filled with the Spirit, faces pouty, faces cherubic.  How does He best love His little children, one and all?

In the text drawn from Matthew 19:16-22, the case of the young man who asked of Him “...what good thing must I do that I may have eternal life?”  We see that, of the Ten Commandments, the Lord quotes the latter five to the young man; why does He not immediately and first quote the great command, which is to “Love the Lord your God...?”  The answer, given by MacDonald, is “...he was not ready for it yet.”  If the cup in the hands of this small child could not contain the contents of the First Commandment, how is the Father of him to best love His child?  It is in the giving of what will fit in his little cup; and thus our Lord recites to him the second five commandments of the Decalogue.  For, though the young man might find the contents of that cup bitter to his taste, his small cup was able to hold the contents nonetheless; and those commandments were such as he at that hour could at the least contemplate, as a place of beginning for him.  And when he, even as did we, would come to taste the contents as sweet and no longer bitter, the Lord would enlarge his cup, to hold more, to come in time ashe surely must, to say; “To love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, is to know God, and to know Him is eternal life.”

But this great command, to love God so dearly, is not where any man can begin: “But to begin with thatwould be as sensible as to say to one asking how to reach the top of some mountain, 'Just set your foot on that shining snow-clad peak, high in the blue, and you will at once be where you wish to go.”

Small children, with small cups, able to hold but little at the beginning; and how does our Father love such children best but by gently pouring into them that which they are able to receive.  For any more would be wasted on them; they are not yet ready.  And thus the God of all Love, with dearest patience, is working in the lives, in the hearts, of His little ones; though it take many years, or even ages of ages, He will love them until they love Him in return.  Then will their joy be full, and there is no cup which can contain what must overflow out of them, to God, and to their brothers and sisters!