On Being Perfect
”Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These were Jesus’ closing words in today’s Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48), simple in their eloquence yet seemingly every bit as impossible in their execution.
Given our fallen and sinful human nature, our concupiscence, and the never ending onslaught of worldly temptation against the backdrop of a deteriorating, anything-goes culture, is it possible to even entertain the notion of perfection? I‘m fairly certain that when Jesus called me to be perfect, that call went directly to voicemail.
Jesus begins the discussion with his disciples by making it clear that this “eye for an eye” mentality has to go. Revenge can no longer be part of our Spiritual DNA. We are called to instead forgive as Jesus forgives. One need only glance at the cross and reflect upon His final words while being nailed brutally to the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” to understand how high the bar has been set. “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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.”
A highly influential and rather polarizing politician recently claimed that, despite her ongoing ideological disagreements and the downright vitriol that she has shown for the President of the United States, a hatred that had been gleefully returned in full measure by our Commander-In-Chief I might add, that she does indeed pray for the President. Many scoffed at her claim and the grenade lobbing of course began on cue, but it gave us all a chance (hopefully) to pause for a moment and ask:
Do we pray for our most bitter enemies?
More importantly, do we pray for those who are enemies of Jesus, those who spread blasphemies and untruths about him, those who are in a position of influence and authority who pass legislation or render court verdicts that are an egregious affront to his teachings? This is very challenging, particularly given the souped-up, highly politicized atmosphere that is so prevalent today. But prayer has the power to change hearts. It is our best weapon in these divisive times.
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” Can’t argue with that logic. If you only love the lovable people in your life and draw the battle lines when those onerous and mean-spirited individuals that “everybody hates” arrive on the scene, you haven’t emulated Jesus, which we are all called to do.
Adam Smith once said “to feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.” Perfection, as defined and viewed through the eyes of God, is not an impossibility. If we simply strive to love God in a way that opens us up to change, particularly as it relates to those parts of our lives that keep us from striving to do God’s will ~ in this case loving our neighbors ~ his kindness and mercy will take care of the rest.
God knows that we are sinners and he could of course perfect us in a moment’s notice if he chose to do so, but he instead seeks our cooperation in fulfilling his plan for us and the world. We must approach this seemingly daunting task with a joyful heart. For as Aristotle once said “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
It is through God’s unending love and grace that we can and will be perfected, beloved children on a journey to everlasting life in God the Father’s Heavenly Kingdom.