“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The quote above is the last sentence of the gospel reading assigned for today, Independence Day. Pretty tall order there, Jesus.
This passage comes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount which starts with the Beatitudes and ends with an admonition that those who hear his words and act on them will be like a wise man who builds his house not on sand, but on solid rock. In between there are six times when Jesus says, “You have heard it said….But I tell you….” (see Matthew 5:21ff) These, “But I tell you” phrases take whatever the law once was for the Jews in Jesus’s day and make the adherence to the law more difficult to observe. In our passage for today we have the final of these formulas (Matthew 5:43-45a):
“‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”
Jesus is demanding that we are more than we are currently–maybe even more than we think we can ever become….MAYBE more than is possible for us. How very much like our Lord and Savior, how very much like our God.
One of the prevailing thoughts in our culture–almost from the beginning of our country it may seem–is that we can be better than we are currently. More to the point, we have the right to be able to TRY to be better than we are currently. Our country’s attitude seems to be that, “records were made to be broken.” We are to surpass where we are now, and whole industries have sprung up around our CIP (Continuous Improvement Process).
But how often are we doing all of that with how we live our lives? How often are we purposefully struggling to surpass where we are currently and challenging ourselves to grow with things like: our prayer life; our relationship with God; how we are in relationship with those we don’t get along with; our charitable giving; our relationships with those we love; how intently we focus on everyone we meet as a beloved child of God?
What Jesus is saying to us is that not only should we try to be “better,” we should try to be PERFECT. I believe he says this knowing full well we cannot get there on our own. He says this knowing that we will eventually fail, falling short of perfection. So why say it then? Why even bother to challenge us if He knows we’ll only end up failing? Because Jesus wants us to be better than we are. He wants us to strive to help bring the Good News to the world in our thoughts, our words and our actions. And God gives us people in our lives that challenge us and raise us up to help move us forward towards that perfection. We need to seek out those who help us and give thanks for them in our lives, realizing that they are true gifts from God.
Maybe we won’t ever get to the perfection Jesus preaches about in his Sermon on the Mount, but we sure can try to kick it up a notch, can’t we?
In Christ’s Name,