Therefore You Shall Be Perfect
Therefore You Shall Be Perfect, Just As Your Father In Heaven Is Perfect. – Matthew 5:21-48
This is the closing line to chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. It brings the early part of the Sermon of The Mount to a kind of crescendo, with a stunning message. Just before this, Jesus gives us several examples of how we have operated in the world, then tells us how our “human wisdoms” have not just fallen short, but have generally been the cause of most of our suffering.
He starts each of these statements of “divine wisdom” with a phrase like, “You heard it said in the past…” Then he stuns us by saying something like, “But I say to you…” With each of these statements, Jesus chastises us, and gives us an entirely new way to think about and to respond to the difficult challenges that life so often puts before us. And we are truly stunned. He says to us things like the following:
“You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on you right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone asks you for your tunic, give him your cload as well. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two….”
“You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. That you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven; for He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on hte just and on the unjust.
The truth of these statements hurts our old sensibilities. We might hear ourselves say, as I’m sure those who heard these words from Jesus’ own mouth might have said, “How could Jesus ask us to do such impossible things?” If we have come to know Jesus, we also know that he “practiced the words that he preached”. He modeled to us the way that a true son or daughter of God ought to act in the world. He did love those who hated him, who cursed him, or who persecuted him. Indeed, some of his last words, spoken as he hung on the cross, were, “Father. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To be a Christian is to be one with Christ. To be one with Christ is to be a true son or daughter of our Father in heaven. Jesus knows that His Way is not easy. He knows how difficult it is for us to walk in his footsteps. But, if we look at what He is telling us here, if we contemplate it in the sanctuary of our heart, and if we begin to try to practic this difficult way, we know with certainty that he will not abandon us, that he will be with us in his Holy Spirit every step of the way.
We are challenged to ask ourselves here, “What would the world be like if the vast majority of Christians were publicly living this way?” The answer is obvious in two ways. First, if we are truly honest with ourselves, it is clear that we are not, because we are still suffering from the consequences of acting in the “old ways”. And, secondly, Jesus would not ask us to do anything that was not possible for us. If most Christians were living as Jesus did, the Kingdom of God would be very close at hand. Though we fail, we know that forgiveness is always at hand. Every time we try to live the Christian life publicly, we know that Christ is with us. Trust in Him and “All will be well. All will be well. And all manner of things will be well.” Julian of Norwich