Many argue perfection is an unrealistic goal. Or unattainable at best. As someone once said, “If we were able to achieve perfection, they what would we do for an encore?
Is it possible for a person to be perfect? Can we actually have a perfect life, and live in a perfect world?
You might not think so, but Jesus might beg to differ. This is what he has to say in Matthew 5:38-48
One has to wonder what was going through his mind when Jesus said, “Be perfect as God is perfect”? Never mind all the other crazy things he says before it. Love your enemies, do nice things to those who hate you, bless the ones who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
In what world does any of this make sense?
In the last of his series of antithesis, Jesus is at his ornery best. He’s offering advice that makes no sense if he is not who Matthew claims him to be – the Messiah, the One who makes all things new.
That’s what Jesus is doing here, making all things new, beginning with this new community of Twelve imperfect followers.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching them what God’s kingdom is all about. He uses a series of well-known laws to help expand their thinking and to shape the character of this community so they can become the people Jesus needs them to be - a new kind of people formed and fashioned for the kingdom of God.
Jesus shows them a way to live perfectly in sync with God and others in a new kind of community where offenders are dealt forgiveness; where hatred is greeted with kindness; and where everyone’s needs are met.
According to Jesus, perfection isn’t about being the perfect spouse or student any more than it’s having the perfect theology or practicing the perfect ritual. For him, perfection is summed up in one perfect word - love.
Brian McLaren writes, “Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was most radical of all. Love was his prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled.”
So, is it possible to be a perfect person with a perfect life and live in a perfect world? Jesus says yes. And it all begins with love.
Love is the key to exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
Love is the way to see and participate in God’s kingdom here and now.
As Jesus himself proved time and time again, love is the way God becomes visible and tangible - in us, through us, and all around us.
Therefore, the way to be perfect as God is perfect, is to love as God first loved us. Imperfect as we are.
Sadly, this is not how the world understands perfection, is it? If it were, the plastic surgery industry wouldn’t be a $55-billion empire.
You might not be in the market for a perfect nose, but I’m sure we have all experienced internal, self-critical thoughts. You might be doing it now while scrolling through Facebook.
I know I have had those moments of jealousy and envy seeing pictures of someone’s so called “perfect house” or “perfect honeymoon.” How crazy is it that we make other people’s social media content the bar by which we define our self-worth?
Curtis Farr writes, “It can be tempting, even for the most well-adjusted among us, to compete with others to enhance our sense of self-worth. In sensing a lack of self-worth, we might try to improve ourselves, striving for a misguided notion of perfection.”
When Jesus tells us to be perfect by the way we love, he’s not telling us to compare our love to how others love us. He’s telling us to compare our love to God’s love for us. Jesus goes from place-to-place mirroring God’s compassion, mercy and grace in every space he enters.
In every word he speaks and every deed he does Jesus constantly and consistently gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. A heart that does not compare or keep score. A heart that causes the sun to rise and rain to fall on everyone. A heart that is perfect because it has perfected love.
Jesus is our tangible proof that out of great love for us, God comes to us and suffers our worst, then rises up to forgive us.
Jesus ushers in a new kind of world, with new paradigms, that turns everything we thought we knew on its head because he raises the bar and expands our understanding of perfect love. Love that isn’t contingent on what we do. But on what God does.
Because God showers us with abundant grace, mercy, love, and protection Jesus knows we can do the same for the other. He entrusts his ministry with to a community of imperfect people knowing everyone has the potential to be gracious, forgiving, hospitable, and generous to a fault.
Jesus doesn’t see this as an impossible ideal because he knows we’re not the ones doing the heavy lifting. God is. As Jesus will go on to demonstrate, “To be perfect as God is perfect” means allowing God’s love to flow in and out of us. Our love, this love, is God’s love that is first given to us.
Imagine a world where everyone just allowed God’s love to flow into everyone they met. Think about what our communities would be like if sharing God’s love was the objective of every corporate vision, or a part of every law written? There would be no more poverty or war. No one would lack food or health care. We wouldn’t be terrified of sending our kids to school.
Some think Jesus is an idealist. And that we who follow him are stuck in some altruistic fantasy. I will admit, his teachings seem out there. They are different. And difficult to hear. Never mind how hard they can seem to live out faithfully in this world. But Jesus came to make things new, and that means getting rid of the old. Change is never easy.
Again, we’re not the one’s doing the heavy lifting. God is. It’s God’s love that flows through us to change the course of our future.
Jesus tells us that anyone who knows God’s love can now love their enemies. Anyone who has experienced God's forgiveness can now forgive others. Anyone who has received God's generosity can now give back to those who have little or nothing.
These things are not impossible to do if we are willing to actually follow the One who is the perfect embodiment of God’s love.
Like the great Stanley Hauerwas realized, Jesus was more than just a great person who did some pretty remarkable things. Jesus is truly divine “because of his ability to birth the kingdom of God in every given moment.”
Everything Jesus did mirrored God's vision of God's world where genuine and unconditional love reigns.
It might sound idealistic, but I believe this is something every one of us is capable of doing. If you think I’m crazy, remember this. The Bible never says Jesus was a perfect son to Mary and Joe. It never tells us if he was a good brother, or even a decent carpenter.Yet all four gospels tell us Jesus was the perfect personification of God because he lived his life as the living, breathing incarnation of God’s love.
If we are going to be a part of his Body, this community we call church, then we too must allow God’s love to come to life in us, right here and right now. It’s not impossible or as hard as you might think.
When we love our neighbors like God loves us, when we put the needs of others before our own, when we set aside our anger and forgo retaliation to give peace a chance God’s love is perfected in us and through us. Whenever and wherever we allow God’s love to flow perfectly like this, then our communities will begin to look a lot more like the world God created for us.
Whether or not we are perfect people with perfect hair and skin and bodies, we can be a perfect community when we choose to actually become people who love God, love others, and serve both.
This is the way of Jesus. The way that reflects God’s love for all of creation. And it is the way, the only way, we can become perfect as God is perfect.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Farr, Curtis. Flawless. February 19, 20217. (Accessed on March 3, 2023).
Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2006).
McLaren, Brian D. The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2016).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”