Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Why does Christ command us to be “perfect” when obviously we cannot be perfect?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.“ – Matthew 5:43-48
At the time of Christ, a popular conservative movement was taking place in Israel, a hearkening to return to the strict adherence to religious values of the past. This was the rise of the Pharisees, a predominantly lay movement that took to heart the words found in II Chronicles 7:14 …”If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” The Pharisees sought to tighten up the rules and return to the strict adherence and then, and only then, would the nation of Israel return to its former glory and privileged statue in the eyes of God. They called for perfect law and order … but Christ could see their hypocrisy and confronted their definition of what it meant to perfect in the eyes of God.
Christ, unlike the Pharisees, did not see the hope for the people in looking back to the past, but rather in looking forward toward a more perfect understanding of the wishes and ways of God. No, the hope was not to be found in keeping more perfectly the letter of the Law but would be found in living out more perfectly the Love of God.
I find it helpful to picture “perfection” not as a desired destination but a desired direction. “Going on perfection” is how my faith community phrases it. Perfection is not the state of our Christian living but rather the vector of our Christian living. And it not about the keeping of rules but rather about the fulfilling of dreams. To love your enemies and to pray for those who strive against you … this is the test if you are living with the Love of God, this is the evidence of whether your love is filled with the Love Divine. Anyone can love a friendly neighbor … but those with Christ-like Love actually in real-life practice go about living with the Providential and Merciful Love of God, a universally applied Love that dares to risk one’s self for the sake of others.
No, we will never be perfect rule-keepers and God has not need of that … but with the Presence of the Lord assisted us … we can more perfectly Love.
Always in His Service,
Fr. Charitas de la Cruz