You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
[With these words Jesus continues to teach about the Law of Moses as the Sermon on the Mount continues. He takes some of the most important topics and explains to his disciples, in specific terms, what it means to be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires” (See Day 23)].
YIKES!! Come on Jesus! What the heck? I think you have some pretty unrealistic expectations. Perfect? Like – without flaw or blemish? I think not…
A little research shows that the original Greek word loses something in translation. Strong’s Concordance defines the original word – teleios – as follows: “perfect (a) complete in all its parts, (b) full grown, of full age, (c) specially of the completeness of Christian character.” This same word is usually translated in other places in the New Testament as “complete” or “mature” as opposed to “perfect.” (See http://biblesuite.com/greek/5046.htm). Such are the vagaries of trying to understand text that was written in another language in another millennia by people in far off area of the world who had a very different culture. And still we must try…
OK, so it’s pretty clear that Jesus isn’t saying that we literally have to be “as perfect as God” in the normal sense of the word. But the idea of comparing God to humanity in any way seems almost blasphemous. It is interesting that Jesus affirms in this scripture that God is our Father. Maybe that’s critical to our understanding of what he’s saying. Maybe he is not a harsh critical kind of father. Maybe he’s the good kind who sees his kids through eyes of love and grace.
Bubbles is my dog. She is a Havanese, but she would never win a prize in a dog show. She lives up to her name – friendly, bouncy, bubbly. She loves people and runs to up anyone who says the words “baby,” “cute,” or “puppy.” She especially loves toddlers and their high-pitched squeals. I think she has more friends than I do. On the other hand, she is bossy around other dogs, usually doesn’t come when I call her, sometimes pees on carpeting, has a super shrill bark, marks her territory like a boy dog, and has even been known to eat poop. Yes, these last things may look pretty bad on paper, but I love her dearly and I wouldn’t change a hair on her sweet little head. I love her so much that I don’t care about her flaws. She’s my dog and in my eyes she is pure perfection.
Maybe God’s just not paying that much attention our flaws. And maybe he’s not holding us up to some non-existent, unattainable standard of perfection. Like a Barbie doll. No matter how many times we tell them that a real human being can’t look like her, little girls still feel inferior if they don’t look like Barbie. It’s like men comparing themselves to Superman. Nobody can do what he does. I don’t think God is comparing us to some kind of spiritual Barbie or Superman. God’s our creator. He can do whatever he wants. If he wanted a bunch of perfect little mini-Gods then that’s how he would have made us. He made human beings. He made this choice and I assume he knows what he wants.
Maybe Jesus is saying, “God made you just the way you are and he loves you, so you must live up to his love and give it away like he does. You are unique and special. Be true to yourself. Be the best YOU that YOU can be and you will be perfect in my eyes. I love watching your life unfold and rejoice as you bloom and mature and eventually bear fruit. I can’t wait to see you mature and grow up. You must keep moving ahead to your best possible completion. No one else can ever be a more perfect YOU!”
We’ve all relished a fully ripened peach, marveled at a spectacular rose, luxuriated in a perfect summer evening, and been moved by a work of art. But is a peach ever really perfect? Or a rose? Or an evening? Or a beautiful painting? It depends on how you look at it – through eyes of criticism or eyes of love. You know, we probably fixate on each other’s faults more than God does. But that’s because he’s perfect and we’re not. He has perfect eyes and we don’t. Eyes that see the best in people and instead of the flaws.
The scripture says we must be perfect as our Father is perfect. We are his children and it’s imperative that we do all we can to grow up and be like him. And we have some idea what that might look like because he came here and walked among us in the person of Jesus. Maybe we’re not perfect but Jesus says we must try hard and never give up. Maybe it’s time for us to stop listening to those voices that burden us with non-Biblical nonsense like “original sin” (we are sinful from birth) or the “depravity of man”. In my experience most people are not sinful or depraved. Most people are pretty awesome and even downright heroic.
It’s time to stop saying, “Nobody’s perfect!” as an excuse for our own bad behavior or laziness. I think that if we sincerely try to do his will, then maybe we will be perfect in his eyes. And in each other’s eyes, too. Like a rose. Or a balmy summer evening. Or a work of art. Or a sweet little dog.
What does this scripture say to you?