Children have a way of keeping us humble. When my son was twelve he served me well in that way. I was preaching to our small gathering of collective house churches one morning. We had just returned from a family vacation in which we had experienced, what I thought, was a very exciting misadventure. I went into great detail describing the colorful events, embellishing them with wit and charm.
Half way through my brilliant storytelling, my son raised his hand. He sat in the front row and everyone in the room saw his hand raised. I tried to ignore it at first, not wanting to interrupt my stunning and captivating monologue.
He persisted and his upraised hand finally flagged me down.
I stopped in mid story and gave him my full attention.
He lowered his hand and said in a loud voice,
“what’s your point?”
The crowd erupted with laughter, and I was done.
Those three words have lived on within my family. We often find ourselves saying to one another, in my son’s matter-of-fact tone, “what’s your point?”
Isn’t that really the question? What is the point…of anything?
The text for this week is Matthew 19:16-22. A rich young man approaches Jesus and asks, “what good might I do to have eternal life?”
The conversation is interesting. Jesus names the commandments pertaining to how we treat others: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, honor your parents. Interestingly, he leaves out the commandment to not covet and replaces it with “love your neighbor as yourself.”
That makes sense when you think about it. This rich young man had everything a person could want. What would he covet of his neighbor that he doesn’t already have for himself?
“I’ve done all these things, so what is missing?” the young man asks.
Then Jesus pulls my son’s trick. Jesus says, “If you wish to be perfect…”
The word perfect is deceptive for us in our American context. We tend to think of perfection as a state of being without error, having reached some sort of equilibrium of absolute completeness in which there is no flaw or changeability.
That is not the word being translated here. The word is teleios, which is the adjective form of the word telos. It means goal, or end. It has to do with the point or purpose of any given thing.
In other words, the word telos asks, “what’s your point?”
Jesus looked at this rich young man and said, “you have followed the law, and that is good, but you have missed the point. You are asking how you might gain eternal life. Who is the focus of that question? You! If you want to know the point—if you want to be perfect—then give it all away. Put yourself in a position where you may be tempted to covet what others have, and then find yourself set free of the desire to own or control things or people. Live your life focused on the good of others, not yourself, and then you’ll find real life, eternal life, the life for which God created us.
I think, maybe, that’s the point.