So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
This sentence is often used as a hermeneutical key to understanding the sermon on the mount as a whole. Jesus is laying out the way of life for his followers. This text is especially appropriate for Lent, as we try to obey what Jesus is asking of us. However, we need to appreciate what Jesus intends by asking us to be “perfect.”
First, the word perfect (τέλειος) often has a different meaning than we commonly have in mind when we think about perfection. It means mature or complete (e.g., 1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 3:15; Hebrews 5:14). Jesus doesn’t necessarily expect us to be sinless. Look at the context:
For if you love [only] those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
Jesus is discussing our responsibility to love everyone. His main point here is that we are to treat others with the same kind of love as God does, not that we quantitatively aim at some level of sinless perfection. Saint Luke, in the parallel passage, tells us that doing so “will enable us to be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” He ends with, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:25-26). To be like our Father, we need to be merciful and love with a mature, complete kind of love that doesn’t restrict itself only to those we like or who love us back.
How can you be merciful today to those you don’t particularly like?
Let Us Pray:
O loving God, you love me even when I am unlovable. Help me to appreciate your love, and to love others as you love me. Help me also to develop a merciful heart, that I may reflect to others your own living kindness.
Daily Eucharistic Reflection – Center for Eucharistic Evangelizing (eucharisticevangelizing.com)