Do you want to be perfect like God is perfect?
Jesus tells us how to do it, and it’s shockingly easily.
Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind…
There’s an interesting section in the Sermon on the Mount that I believe we easily overlook in our reading of it. Here’s the pericope:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48 NRSV)
We readily see “love your enemies” (hasn’t that become something of a catch-phrase?), and then we skip over the rest. Maybe we think “I don’t have enemies,” or “that’s too hard,” or “he/she doesn’t deserve that!!”
And, if we have enemies, we should love them of course (though how many of us in the West truly do?). But Jesus expands this message from “enemy” to everyone, in the proceeding verses. He says “if you only love those who love you… if you only greet your friends…” thereby including those who are strangers to us, or indifferent, or Other. Jesus is essentially saying love everyone, and greet everyone. Reminds me of how he summed up the law and prophets: Love God and love others.
But the way Jesus ends this section is what blows my mind. He says ‘if you do this, you will be perfect like God is perfect.’ How simple sounding, eh!
The young adults at a church I worked for all saw the need to reach out to new people and visitors, and welcome them and say hi and invite them to join the community, but every week they would still clump together in their closed groups of friends and exclude everyone else (there were exceptions of course). One of them told me that it was hard because they only saw their friends in real life on Sundays, they were so busy during the week.
At my current church one of the guys told me that, as a single late-20’s guy, he won’t talk to new married couples or families, or those who are in an older generation than him.
But this is why I think Jesus says we will be perfect when we do extend our welcome though – God, in the trinitarian oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the most perfect, complete, whole, unified, loving friendship anywhere – sent Jesus to earth to love and welcome us into God’s family. We who were not friends, we who had nothing in common with him.
So, on the surface this is the most easy thing in the world for us to do (unless you’re an introvert, like I am – but if I can try do it so can you!). Yet in practice it’s hard for us to break out of our patterns, our comfort zones, our friendship groups, our mindsets. But if we do, we will be perfect like our Father in Heaven, who reached out to welcome strangers like us into his Kingdom, and into his union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
“Be perfect, therefore, like your heavenly Father is perfect.”