Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
A man comes to Jesus and asks what good thing he must do to inherit the life of the age to come (not ‘eternal life’ in the traditional sense). Jesus tells him that in order to enter life he must keep the commandments. The man has done this. What is still lacking? Jesus tells him that if he would be ‘perfect’, he must sell what he has, give to the poor, and follow him. What is the meaning of ‘perfect’ here?
Since the man already keeps the commandments, he should probably already be judged ‘perfect’ in the sense suggested by 1 Kings 8:61 LXX: ‘And let our hearts be perfect toward the Lord our God, to walk also holily in his ordinances, and to keep his commandments, as at this day.’
There is another use of teleios, however, in the Septuagint that may be more appropriate for the narrative context. In Genesis 6:9 LXX Noah is said to be ‘a just man; being perfect (teleios) in his generation…, well-pleasing to God’. The ‘perfect’ Noah is the one who escapes the destruction of God’s judgment on the wicked antediluvian world. The point is made even clearer by Ben Sirach:
Noah was found perfect and righteous; in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange; therefore a remnant was left to the earth when the flood came. (Sirach 44:17)
A similar argument could perhaps be made from 2 Samuel 22:26 LXX: David has shown himself to be ‘perfect’ (in the Hebrew ‘blameless’) and has therefore been delivered from the hands of his enemies (22:1, 3-4, 20, 28, 44, 49).
In other words, Jesus’ message to the man may be: if you wish to be part of a community that will escape the destruction of divine judgment on Israel, give up the wealth that will be of no use to you when disaster comes, and follow me on a dangerous journey towards life.