First Reading: Lev 19:1-2.17-18; Psalm: 103. R. v. 8a; Second Reading: 1Cor 3:16-23; Gospel: Mt 5:38-48
SEEKING DIVINE PERFECTION
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48).
For the past three Sundays now, we have been reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The conclusion of this sermon is captured in the gospel of today. In fact, the concluding statement of Jesus in today’s gospel summarises the entire sermon; “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The Sermon on the Mount began with the following words:
“Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:”
The immediate teaching of Jesus that followed was on the beatitudes. A teaching that opposes the standard of the world but leads to salvation. Next, with the image of salt and light Jesus highlighted the distinctive impact we are called to make in our world. He then went further to emphasise the need to go extra miles to living the spirit of the law. For salvation does not subsist in merely keeping the letters of the commandments. And finally today, Jesus summarises these entire teachings by calling us to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Perfection connotes ‘faultlessness,’ ‘flawlessness,’ ‘excellence,’ ‘sublimity,’ or anything devoid of error. And we know that the essence of God is perfection. And God’s perfection lies on his intrinsic attributes such as ‘love,’ ‘goodness,’ ‘kindness,’ et cetera. So it is an insufficient knowledge to say that God is good because God is goodness itself. If at all we are good, it is because we share from the goodness of God. God is the completeness of every good quality we exude. Our good qualities are only a modicum of the completeness of those qualities in God.
So, if we only shared a small percentage of the perfection of God; how then can we be perfect just as God is perfect?
The word ‘perfect’ as used in the gospel of today is from the Greek word ‘teleios’ meaning “completeness” or “fully accomplished.” If we took this word literally, it appeared Jesus was commanding the impossible. For the reason that no one can be completely equal to God in the good attributes God exudes. But Jesus was not commanding the impossible. For his use of the word ‘perfect’ was not of equality but of likeness. In other words, Jesus was saying that we all have the ability to emulate God but definitely not to drag equality with God. If God showed no discrimination in caring for the good and the evil, then we can do the same.
So, the summary of the Sermon on the Mount calls us to live as sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaven. Therefore, just as the Lord God commanded the people of Israel to be holy, for he is holy; we all are also called to do likewise.
Jesus, the God made man is the true personification of holiness and perfection. He has never commanded us to do what he himself has not done or what is impossible. In the beatitudes, when Jesus commanded us to be meek, merciful, pure in heart and to be peacemakers; he was reverberating the attributes visible in him. When he called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; he was accentuating the difference his simple actions would bring to the world. When he said, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil them; he was saying that if we wished to understand the law and be saved, we should look at his life and follow suit. And when he called us to forgive and love our enemies; he was teaching us how to love by his life and example.
So, if we wished to be perfect like God our heavenly Father, we can look at Jesus. When Jesus called us to love our enemies, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to associate and interact with our enemies especially when they mean us harm. Of course love involves visible actions. But we know that actions stem from the heart. So to love begins from meaning well for people. We may not go to an enemy to show love; but we can mean well for our enemies and pray for them. This is what it means to be pure in heart as the beatitudes commanded.
When Jesus called us not to be even, it doesn’t mean we should not defend ourselves against evil. But that if we must do so, it should be done with love in our hearts and for the greater good. Also, turning the other cheek does not imply that we foolishly offer ourselves as instruments for abuse. But that we should refuse to make a mess of ourselves by not allowing ourselves be dragged into evil actions. In the words of Pope Francis, turning the other cheek is “not to give in to instinct and hatred, but to go much further. Go beyond instinct, go beyond hatred.” (Angelus homily at St Peter’s square, February 20, 2022).
These commands of Jesus are doable. And it is in keeping them that we become perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, grant us the enabling grace to strive towards the perfection of endless love. Amen.