1 Kings 21:17-29
So be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
One evening, the Community of Passionist Partners of San Antonio gathered to celebrate a Mass at Casa Pasionista Guadalupe, our residence here in San Antonio. Our theme for that Mass was forgiveness. Our custom is to share our experiences in light of our faith during the homily time. I don’t remember the Gospel we used for that Mass, but I do remember one of the reflections given at that Mass. In a hushed voice, someone in our group told us about the day his father was murdered a long time ago in another country. He comes from a large family. They lived on a ranch. After the shock wore off, the mother called the family together and made them promise on their father’s blood that they would not seek revenge. It was then, he said, that he began to understand the challenge of the commandment so clearly stated by Jesus in today’s Gospel, "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 few lines later, Jesus continues: "So be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that the perfection that Jesus is talking about is doing things perfectly. But Jesus says: "Be perfect" and not "Do things perfectly". Being perfect is about loving our neighbors and our enemies, forgiving those who wrong us, accepting the gestures of reconciliation when offered to us, among other things. As we know, this passage comes at the end of the "Sermon on the Mount" which begins with the Beatitudes. This sermon is about changing our way of life. It is about conversion. It is about becoming a new person in the image of our Loving God. So, Jesus was not talking about perfection as doing things perfectly. Rather Jesus was saying that being perfect is being like God, a God who is loving, compassionate, just, merciful, forgiving.
Our behavior needs to flow from a new understanding of who God is, from a heart that is filled with love for God and for the other no matter how rude and mean they are and from a commitment to doing whatever it takes to be faithful, in good times and in bad, whether we are alone or with others.
We become perfect when we acknowledge that it is impossible to be perfect on our own. But with God, everything is possible. This is the moment that we realize God is asking us to live a mystery: Being perfect is really about being dependent upon God.
The vast majority of us have not had to face a violent past. But we all have had to face times in our lives when we had to choose between anger and composure, vengeance and forgiveness, retribution or reconciliation. It is faith in a God who loves, a God who forgives, a God who is compassionate, a God of mercy that allows us to become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.