Definitions from Oxford Dictionary:
Ideal: A person or thing regarded as perfect. A standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at.
Role model: A person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.
In the last class, Swamiji said, “Sri Ramakrishna is an ideal householder and an ideal monk,” i.e., Sri Ramakrishna shows what the goal of a monk or a householder is. As Swamiji pointed out, the purpose of marriage is not physical pleasure, but it is a means to get over the sexual drag. Both Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi, being celibate, demonstrated how an ideal couple should live in the world. Sri Ramakrishna is also an ideal monk because he had tremendous renunciation besides having no employment for his own subsistence by relying entirely on what others provided to him. Swamiji brilliantly said contradictions exist between an imperfect monk and imperfect householder, where as perfect monk and perfect householder have a harmony which is found in Sri Ramakrishna’s life.
Thus Sri Ramakrishna is an ideal for anyone, i.e., a state of perfection to be achieved. However, is he a role model? A role model has a life like us, but his/her certain actions make him/her achieve the ideal thereby giving confidence to others that they could achieve the same too. Would life of Sri Ramakrishna evoke that confidence within you that you could achieve the goal from the state where you currently are? Bear in mind that if you treat him as an incarnation, then it gets harder to treat him as a role model as you create an impregnable wall between him and yourself by thinking that he and you are not the same.
Sri Ramakrishna never had a life of a regular householder or a monk. By the time he was young, he was already at such a state that his later life did not have to go through the stages of a regular householder, such as having children or being employed or renounce kin and kith like in a monk’s life. For many householders and monks, the state of a young Sri Ramakrishna is a work of a lifetime which undergoes a very different events/experiences from what Sri Ramakrishna had seen in his own life. So how will the householder or monk who has to tackle different events/experiences in life than what Sri Ramakrishna had seen in his own, be able to imitate or learn from Sri Ramakrishna whose life had nothing in common with those of regular people? We can say that at best Sri Ramakrishna as an ideal, would be a good validation point for a spiritual aspirant when the goal is achieved but he is not a role model who could be used/imitated to reach the ideal itself. For role models, we need to look at lives of saints whose life initially is like of normal persons but later get transformed into lives imbued with spirituality after a lot of struggle.
So for a spiritual aspirant, the incarnations are ideals where as the saints are the role models. Frankly speaking, when you are struggling, you get inspired more by role models than by ideals.