Perfection – raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten a 100 on a quiz. I have; but I also recall a time when I saw that grade on the top of a test or a paper, and knew, really, that I could have done better. I didn’t answer a question fully, I misspelled something, the teacher overlooked an obvious error, rushing to get everything graded. Raise your hand if you’ve ever planned a party to perfection – right down to the last detail, only to have the guest of honor arrive early, or the cake fall to the floor, or some other disaster occur. Truth be told, we often strive for perfection but rarely ever achieve it.
Yet that is what Jesus asks of His disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Whoa. Be perfect like God the Father is perfect? Talk about an unattainable goal. It’s nearly unreasonable, this challenge placed before us. For mere earthlings, humans with the stain of sin, it sounds impossible, at least while we are still living on Earth. We know though, that Jesus never calls us to things we can’t attain somehow, someday. You’ve heard maybe that God doesn’t call the gifted, He gifts the called. In what ways can we work, with God’s help, toward this perfection God asks for?
Well, take a look at the first reading, where God asks the Israelites to “be holy” because God is holy. A definition I like for the word holy is to be “whole” – that is, to be complete. Especially within our faith lives and journeys, our goal is that wholeness, that unity and oneness with God. The Lord tells Moses how he should instruct the Israelites on that same journey: to not keep hatred for one another, to not pursue revenge, and to love all. The Psalm continues the teaching – the Lord is kind and merciful, and so should we be. The word mercy sums up this journey, doesn’t it? Be merciful to those around you in need. Be merciful to those around you who harm and persecute you. Be merciful to yourself when you fall short of the life God asks of each of us. In fact, when Luke writes this same teaching in his Gospel, he doesn’t use the word perfect, he uses – you guessed it – the word merciful instead. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians adds the layer of humility, and in fact reverence, for what God has created in you, the human being. No one belongs to Paul, or Apollos, or to Cephas: all belong to the Lord. And it is in belonging to the Lord, on a journey to holiness, with mercy toward one another and toward ourselves, and aware of the mercy the Lord has shown on each of us, that we ultimately can be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.