The Rio Olympic Games have clearly established Michael Phelps as the single greatest Olympic athlete of all time. He has won more individual gold medals than any other athlete since the games began in ancient Greece. These medals have been won over 4 different Olympic Games, so it has been sustained greatest.
If ever there was a person you could make a case for being perfect, he would be the one. Yet, Michael Phelps has not won every event he raced in the Olympics. And, as we witnessed after the London Games, Michael Phelps struggled with life outside the pool. Michael’s Olympic perfection has maybe consumed 45 total minutes of his entire 30 year life.
Olympic athletes work incredibly hard to achieve perfection. It is one area in life where perfection is actually measurable. Do you remember Nadia Comaneci getting a perfect 10 score? Yet, despite all their work very few will come close. Michael Phelps has defeated hundreds of swimmers who never received one gold medal, let alone 22. In some of those races perfection and a participation trophy were separated by 7 tenths of a second.
A rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life in this morning’s reading. What he really wants to know is how to be perfect and to have his current level of perfection affirmed. Jesus gave him an impossible task, “Sell everything and give it to the poor.” The young man walks away grieving at his inability to be perfect.
I often wonder how much of the emotional struggles we endure everyday is a grieving over our inability to be perfect. Jesus never promised perfection. He promised you life, hope, comfort and love. Out of these gifts we will experience joy. They are so much more enduring and useful than perfection. (Mt. 19: 16-22)