Gospel Matthew 5:38-48

“Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus speaks these words in the context of his great Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by St Matthew in his Gospel. We’ve heard the Beatitudes, as well as some other significant teachings and saying of Jesus which extend the old Law of the ten commandments beyond mere external compliance, towards something more inward, to the internal disposition of our hearts. This, of course, does not negate external compliance, but it does significantly ‘raise the bar’, so to speak.

Importantly however, this new moral law, if it can be so-called, is not something that is established as a kind of test, or competition of feats of moral strength. What Jesus is offering us is a glimpse of a life that is truly transformed.

We read here that Jesus asks us to ‘be perfect’, and here it is so tempting to either scoff and laugh it off, or to throw our hands up in exasperation and dismay, exclaiming that this is all just too hard. The great English writer of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton once wrote that ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’ (ch. 5).

What is perhaps saddest in this abandonment of the Christian ideal is that it often comes from an honest assessment of our own capabilities – and a lack of understanding of the supernatural help that is on offer.

Our natural desire is for an infinite or supernatural happiness, and we know that with our own natural powers we simply cannot achieve it, hence the temptation to despair. But Jesus is not asking us to seek after the impossible. Instead, what he offers us is a gift, something that we should try to open ourselves to receive.

St John Paul II, reflecting on these words asked, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980). This is the great adventure of the call to holiness. It calls us far beyond what is naturally possible, into a life transformed in Christ.

Point to Ponder

The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience” and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. – Lumen Gentium, 40