“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5: 48) There are lots of challenging passages in the Bible, but this saying of Jesus must surely be among the top ten.
The command to be perfect would, in itself, be hard enough. After all, who among us is perfect, or believes that they ever will be? I don’t know about you, but when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a reflection of perfection. I see a man, sincere perhaps, but one who wrestles with his faults and failures every day; a man keenly aware of his sins, past, present and no doubt, future.
But the call to be perfect is even more daunting because it comes in the context of Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” (Mt 5: 44-46)
“Love your enemies.” Wow. For many reasons, that’s really hard. Perhaps our enemies do terribly immoral things, things we totally and personally oppose. Perhaps our enemies have turned their backs on us, forgotten us, after we tried to be really good to them. Perhaps our enemies attack us personally, spreading gossip and rumors about us, and using awful language to do so.
And yet, Jesus tells us to love our enemies.
How can we overcome our natural instinct to hate our enemies and retaliate against them? Well, it requires using all the spiritual tools at our disposal. We need to pray for the grace of forgiveness. In humility, we need to remember our own faults and sins and repent of the times we’ve hurt and offended others. And we need to gaze on the Cross of Jesus who died for the just and the unjust and who said, in his moment of greatest betrayal, “Father, forgive them.” (Lk 23: 34)
In imitating Christ, we’ve got to try really hard to forgive those who have hurt us and to love our enemies. Then we’ll be a bit closer to the perfection to which Jesus calls us.
Something to think about: Who’s the one person you have the most trouble forgiving and loving?