The verse in the Gospel today ends with “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This verse is interpreted by many Christians as an admonition to be completely faultless, unblemished and sinless. And living this specific interpretation have overburdened us and looked down on ourselves whom we know can never be perfect and flawless.
Experience can teach us about perfection. First of all, perfection is impossible to achieve. The goal is always elusive and unattainable. To be perfect is to be God. However, we can detect whether this is our ‘inner’ understanding of perfection. We are never satisfied with who we are in front of the Lord. We come to confession, we think we are not forgiven enough because we have not been perfectly remorse or contrite. When we make an account of our sins, we feel that there are many other sins which we have not mentioned; and at the very depths, we think that every confession we make will never be enough to ‘erase’ all our past sins. Therefore, each confession may not be always a ‘good’ confession. By approaching God in confession, we feel a momentary relief in being perfectly faultless — until the next sinful thought. And then, we panic and rush back to confession the next day.
The person then becomes rigid, always afraid, always condemning of oneself. The result is what Scott Detisch would call a ‘spiritual and emotional collapse’. After sometime we would feel disappointed because we cannot sustain the energy to achieve perfection. We will feel too tired and weary. We think that we can achieve perfection by our own sheer will and effort. We will never be able to please God.
People who operate in this paradigm cannot see that we are indeed loved. In our imperfections, we find it hard to accept that we are loveable in the eyes of God and others. We cannot see that God can be with us, stay with us, accompany us even with faults.
But at the very depth of all our efforts ‘to be perfect’ — even all our Christian principles — is the call to grow, to become better persons, than who we are right NOW. St. Paul describes growth as to advance: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3, 13-14). To grow means to move forward on the way of the Lord, on the way to becoming like the Lord.
Thus, the Christian maxim to be perfect means to move towards perfection. It suggests a process, a movement, an advancement. And if this is the interpretation, then there are many things in Scriptures that would be consistent. If we are in a process, then God hopes that we can be better persons: thus He ‘makes His sun shine on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust’. To love one’s enemies is God’s way of loving, because through forgiveness and mercy as Psalm 51 says, He hopes that the sinner can still repent, as Ahab ‘humbled himself before the’ Lord in the first reading. God believes that given enough space, time and condition, we would eventually move closer towards perfection.
The implications are profound. Jesus warns us not to be complacent in living our lives. Since we are continually reaching out, perfection is never an acquired state. There is always something to discover in the Gospel; there is something more to live out our lives. Our life is indeed dynamic and moving. And because it is moving, we move with some success and some failure; but we take it on with humor while learning to forgive ourselves.