Polly's Perfect Peaches: Understanding "Be Ye Therefore Perfect"

Polly's alarm went off. She immediately reached for her phone.  She opened her Instagram app to see how many likes she had gotten while she slept. 


Her Fourth of July party had been epic. The neighbors kept complimenting her on the beautiful table and delicious patriotic-themed foods.   She never could have done it without her popular Pinterest board.

Polly frowned, only 136 likes.  Maybe she hadn't included enough hashtags.  She hit the explore button to see what hashtags other popular 4th of July posts were using.  She found a couple she hadn't thought of and quickly added them to her post.  She put her phone back on her nightstand and got dressed.  Just like a watched pot never boils, a watched Instagram post never gets liked.

Polly looked out her window and saw her next-door neighbor Meredith filling a basket with peaches.


 Polly frowned and let out a long sigh.  Meredith was known for making the best jams and syrups from her fruit trees. 

Polly couldn't help but feel a little bit jealous whenever someone talked about Meredith's famous peach jam.   Maybe this year her own tree will finally produce plump, juicy peaches so she can give her neighbors good jam too.  She went into her garage and tried to find a wicker basket that would look good on camera.

As Polly walked into the backyard, her peaches come into view.  Her shoulders slumped.  This year was going to be like every other year.  Her peaches were small and green. 


She plucked one from the tree and took a small bite.  Yep, they were sour, just like always.  She tugged hard on every peach because they refused to be released from the branch.  Soon her basket looked like it was full of misshapen tennis balls.  Every year, she thought.  I'm tried of watering and fertilizing this tree when it won't give me the perfect peaches. 

Polly decided she had had enough of this tree that produces bad fruit.  It was time to go.  She went out to her shed and found the chainsaw.  This tree was going down once and for all.  Just as she fired up the chainsaw, Meredith screamed at her over the fence trying to drown out the loud hum.

"What are you doing?" Meredith yelled.

Polly turned off the chainsaw so that she could hear her. 

"Are you cutting down your peach tree?" asked Meredith.

"Every year you pick perfectly juicy peaches from your tree, but mine are always awful.  I'm tired of taking care of a tree so it can fill up my garbage can with sour fruit.  Why can't my peaches be perfect like yours?"  Tears started to form in her eyes.  She whispered, "Why can't I be perfect like you?"

"Perfect like me?" asked Meredith.  "I'm not perfect, I'm not even close."

"Not from where I'm standing," said Polly.  "I try so hard every day to be the perfect wife and mother, but every day I fail."  She thought about her Instagram post from her party the day before.  "I'm never going to be enough."

Meredith set down her basket, walked around the fence and gave Polly a hug.  "But you are enough.  More than enough.  Where is this coming from?"

Polly sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve.  "I'm sorry.  It's just this week, I've been studying Matthew 5 in the New Testament, and I read the verse that I hate more than any other."

"Let me guess," said Meredith, "verse 48?"

Polly's eyes opened wide and she leaned back.  "How did you know?"

"Because for years I didn't like that verse either.  I felt like the Lord was asking the impossible of me.  I can't be perfect like our Father in heaven, so why am I commanded to be?"

"Yes," said Polly, "That's how I feel.  I know perfection isn't possible, but I feel so much pressure to try."

Meredith invited Polly to sit down with her on the deck.  She pulled out her phone from her pocket and opened her scriptures.  She went to 3 Nephi 12:48 and showed it to Polly.  "Here, read this verse and see if you notice anything different from Matthew's verse."

Polly read slowly. She tried to pay attention as to how it might be different.

Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. 
Polly could feel the same pit forming in her stomach.  She didn't see any difference between the two verses, both made her feel guilty.  Polly shook her head and handed Meredith's phone back to her.

Meredith said, "Let me read the verse out loud and see if you can spot the difference."

Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. [emphasis added]

Polly crinkled her brow. "You mean 'even as I' isn't in the New Testament?"

"No," Meredith answered, "It isn't."

"But I thought Christ lived his entire life without sin?  How can He be perfect in one verse and not in another?"

Meredith grinned.  "Ah, you see, you are thinking of the modern definition of perfect, to be flawless and without error.  But that isn't the word that Christ was using.  In Greek it's called teleios."

"Teleios?  I've never heard of that word before. What does it mean?"

"President Nelson gave a talk in 1995 at General Conference about the word teleios.1  He said it means to reach a distant end, to consummate, or to finish."  Meredith picked up one of Polly's green peaches.  "It means to mature."2

Meredith pointed over to her own tree.  "I harvested my peaches today because they were finally finished.  Every day, since they were tiny blossoms, they have been growing—getting the nutrients and water they needed.  They went from tiny bright green balls, into the fuzzy, plump, juicy peaches that I have today.  On any given day the peaches seemed no different than the day before, but they have always been working their way towards maturity, towards teleios."

Polly thought about Meredith's words.  She imagined Christ sitting on the hill on the edge of the sea of Galilee talking to His disciples and those who had been baptized. 

Sermon on the Mount, by Jorge Cocco

His audience wasn't mature in the gospel, they were like small green fruit in the springtime.  Christ had just begun the second year of his ministry.  Even He hadn't finished his mission yet, not like He had when he spoke to the Nephites in Bountiful after His resurrection.

Christ and the Nephites by John Zamudio

Polly picked up one of her own ugly peaches and thought about how similar she was to this peach.  "But if I don't obey and do everything right, I'll never reach teleios.  I'll remain immature forever."

Meredith placed her hand on top of Polly's.  "Oh honey, that is where fortunately you are wrong.  We are completed because of Christ and His atonement, not because of our righteousness."3

Polly quickly moved her hand away and shrunk back.  "Are you telling me I don't have to be obedient?  You are going against just about every lesson and sermon I've ever heard at church."

Meredith laughed, "Of course not.  What I'm trying to tell you is that obedience isn't how we earn our spot in heaven.  The word "earn" doesn't even appear in any of the scriptures.4  Obedience comes from having our heart changed.  We don't obey because we have to, we obey because we want to." Meredith paused.  "Because we love God."

Polly shrugged, "That's where I fail.  I don't always want to obey.  Some days it's just too much."  She leaned in and said softly. "Sometimes I go to church just because I'm afraid of what people will think if I don't show up.  The last thing I want is to be put on some list where people come knocking on my door and treat me like a project."

Meredith nodded.  "I can understand that." 

Polly continued, "If obedience doesn't do me any good, then I don't see the point of trying." 

Meredith was quiet.  She stared at her hands.  Finally she spoke.  "There was a time in my life when I wanted to give up.  I would go to church and take the Sacrament and it always served as a painful reminder of all the areas where I was falling short.  Then I read the talk by President Uchtdorf called the "Gift of Grace,"  he said something that changed my perspective:

We cannot earn our way into heaven... we are powerless to overcome on our own.  

Meredith pulled out her phone again and looked up the talk.  It was in the Sunday morning session of the April 2015 General Conference.  She found the section she had highlighted and began to read:

With the gift of God's grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward.5

"You see," Meredith explained, "God's grace doesn't take us back to when we were a blossom on the fruit tree, it helps us mature until we are ready for harvest.  Repentance doesn't take us back in time, it changes us so we become more obedient."

Polly furrowed her brows.  "I don't quite get what you are saying."

Meredith sat up straight and put her hand to her chin.  She tapped it for a few seconds.  "Let me ask you a question.  Why do you think we read so often in the New Testament about Christ chastising the Pharisees?  What were they doing wrong?"

Polly smiled; she knew the answer to this one.  "Because they wouldn't let go of the law of Moses.  They were too strict in how they served God."

Meredith asked, "Is that really what the problem was?  That they were doing too good a job of obeying the laws they were commanded to obey?  Does that sound right?"

"Well," said Polly, "when you put it that way, that doesn't make any sense."

"The law of Moses wasn't fulfilled until Christ's death and resurrection.  Sacrifices on the altar were still required during Christ's ministry.  The problem wasn't so much what the Pharisees were doing, but why they were doing it."

Polly blushed.  "You mean like going to church just so that others can see that you go to church?"

Meredith chuckled, "Something like that."

Polly said, "So I shouldn't go to church until my heart is in the right place?"

Meredith vigorously shook her head.  "Oh, please don't misunderstand me.  Church is a hospital for sinners, not a sanctuary for saints."6

"But if Christ's grace will wipe away my sins, then why should I worry about whether I'm obedient or not?"

"You ask a very good question," said Meredith, "one that I'm sure that has been asked since the very beginning.  I bet even Adam and Eve's children wondered the very same thing.  I don't know if I have the definitive answer, but here is what I do know."

Meredith turned to 2 Nephi 25:23 and read:

...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

"Now let me ask you a question, Polly. What exactly is all we can do?"

Polly answered, "Oh you know, the Sunday School answers: prayer, scripture study, church attendance, temple attendance, pay tithing, be honest, have family home evening, serve missions—"

"I'm going to stop you," interrupted Meredith, "you are making me tired just hearing the list.  So in order to get God's grace we have to do all of that?  That sounds like trying to earn a spot in heaven.  What about the billions of people on this earth who don't even know about those things?  Do they not get God's grace?"


Polly was stumped.  It did seem kind of odd that God would tell us that we are saved by grace after all we can do when so many don't even know what they are supposed to do.

"Let me read what it says right before the section I just read," said Meredith.

For we labor to diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God[emphasis added] 

"What do you think it means to be reconciled to God?" asked Meredith.

"Honestly, I don't know," said Polly.

"Reconcile means to bring into harmony.  We are in harmony with God through the atonement of Jesus Christ.7  That is our job, to have confidence that the atonement can work in us.8  And who motivates us to repent and use the atonement of Jesus Christ?" 

"The Holy Ghost?" 

"Right, and how do we gain access to the Holy Ghost?" 

Polly's eyes lit up.  "Ah, through obedience!" 

Meredith said, "I see it as kind of an upward spiral.  When we obey, or even try to, the Holy Ghost helps us know when we need to repent.  When we repent, we draw upon the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ to change our heart.  When our heart is changed, we want to obey.  When we obey the Holy Ghost is there to help us repent again.  And so it goes, upward like Elder Uchtdorf said." 

Polly thought about her confession about church attendance.  "So Christ wasn't trying to get the Pharisees to stop obeying the law of Moses.  He was trying to teach them that their obedience wasn't going to save them, He was.  Christ was trying to change their hearts, not their actions."9

Meredith stood up and brushed her pant legs.  "Now you get it."

Polly stood up and looked at all the trash in her yard leftover from the party the day before.  Why had she put on a such a extravagant event?  Was it so the neighbors could all get together and have a great time?  If she had to be honest, she hadn't even thought about that.  It was so she could take some Instagram-worthy pictures of the party to show the world what a great hostess she was.  "Maybe next year I shouldn't host a 4th of July party.  I did it for all the wrong reasons."

Meredith frowned.  "Oh, Polly, I loved going to your party yesterday.  It was really fun.  It gave me a chance to catch up with Mrs. Jones who has been sick lately.  In fact, I'm going to give her some peach jam later today to see how she's doing.  I hope you host another one next year. You are a great hostess.  You make everyone feel included."

"But now I have a huge mess to clean up."  Polly complained.

"Well..." said Meredith.  "Maybe next year you could simplify.  Instead of a color-coordinated candy filled in apothecary jars, just hand out popsicles to the kids.  At the end of the day, it's all just sugar, right?"

Polly laughed. "Right."  It was hard to imagine throwing a party with just popsicles.  It sounded so boring and wouldn't make for good pictures.  Oops!  She was already falling back into the mindset of worrying about her posts on social media.  "That's a great suggestion."

Meredith gave her a quick hug and looked up at the sky.  "I better get my peach jam started before it gets too hot." She started walking back towards her house.

"Wait!" called out Polly.  "While I appreciated our discussion, you still haven't helped me understand why your peaches are ripe when mine are still green and sour."

"Oh that's easy," Meredith hollered back.  "We have two different kinds of peach trees.  I have an early variety.  Yours won't be ready until August.  You just have to be patient for the right season."

Polly looked at the green peaches remaining on the branches.  In just a few weeks she would have peaches ready to harvest.  And they would be perfect.


Here are the sources I used to write this parable.  The concept of teleios being like a fruit ripening on a tree comes from Camille Fronk Olson, BYU professor and Biblical scholar. 
1. Perfection Pending - Russell M. Nelson October 1995 General Conference 

2. Bible Study Tools - Teleios
3. Redeemer of Israel - Perfection and Grace

4. The Atonement: After All We Can Do - Brad Wilcox Education Week 2009
5. The Gift of Grace - Dieter F. Uchtdorf April 2015 General Conference
7. Book of Mormon Seminary Lesson 45 
8. What is so Amazing About Grace? Camille Fronk Olson 2009 BYU-Hawaii devotional
9. Our Savior in the Gospels - The Sermon on the Mount - BYUtv

This post coincides with the Come Follow Me 2019 Individual Lesson for February 17-24.

Other articles you might like: 

Nicodemus' Story

Becoming Broken: The Gift of Guilt

All photos are from lds.org unless otherwise sourced.

Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.