Readings: Lev. 19:1-2,17-18, Ps. 103, 1 Cor. 3:16-23, Mt 5:38-48
“If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:46-47)
Last Sunday, Jesus taught us that if our righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we would not enter heaven. Today, Jesus takes a step further to say we must be perfect like God.
As the saying goes: “Mediocrity is the killer of genius and it is only in the struggle for perfection that we become our very best.” If as a Christian, you are not aiming for sainthood, you haven’t really started growing and if you are not growing, you are dying gradually.
The question is: What does it mean to be perfect? Does it imply attending not less than two Masses every day, going for confession four times every day, and genuflecting till your head touches the ground? Does it mean praying twenty decades of the rosary every day? Does perfection imply fasting from 6am to 6pm every day?
Let us now consider how today’s readings answer this question and I dare say that in the end, it would shock you to know that Christian perfection may not be as difficult as you may imagine it to be.
1. To be Perfect, Love Those Who Hate You.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:38). Christian perfection basically is refusing to retaliate the wrongs and offences of others. If God were to retaliate every time we sin against him, the entire human race would have long disappeared.
The perfection of God lies in His ability to forgive, to overlook, and to give second chances while at the same time remaining just. Our Psalmist today reminds us, “it is he forgives all your sins, who crowns you with mercy and compassion… he is slow to anger, he does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults….”
Forgiveness is the heart of Christian perfection. Peter once asked Jesus: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus went on to add that if we do not forgive others, God would also deny us forgiveness. (Cf. Matthew 18:35)
Show me a Christian who does not forgive, who prays constantly for the destruction of his enemies (both real and perceived) and I would show you an imperfect Christian; one who seeks to use God as a weapon of mass destruction. Indeed, if you want to know the extent of someone’s Christianity, observe how he or she behaves when angry, provoked, offended or insulted by others. Even those folding their hands now like angels will start behaving like garage touts.
2. To be Perfect, Help Those Who Beg from You.
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42) Helping people is another aspect of Christian perfection. To be a Christian is to resemble Jesus Christ who, though was rich, chose to empty himself and assume the status of a slave just to redeem mankind. (Cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).
If you have what it takes to help someone in need and you refuse to do so, know that despite all your singing and bowing in church, you are not yet a perfect Christian. St. James teaches us that our faith without work is dead, that is, having faith but refusing to help the needy is useless. (Cf. James 2:15-17).
Two Sundays ago, we heard the Prophet Isaiah saying to us: “… share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, cover him, and do not hide from your own flesh… Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58:7-9)
3. To be Perfect, Love Your Enemies; that is, Do Not Have Enemies
“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45). One shining attribute of God is that He is kind not only to the good but also to those who are evil.
Christian perfection basically is refraining from selective love. It is doing to others exactly what you want them to do to you and this includes those who have not been nice to you. By saying we should love our enemies, Jesus is not asking us to develop romantic relationships with those who hurt us. Jesus is simply saying: ‘be good to your enemies as if they are your friends or better put, do not have enemies at all.’
The irony of life is that those you consider to be your friends today are most likely going to be your worst enemies tomorrow and those you think are your enemies today may turn out to be your life-savers tomorrow. Be good to everyone. No matter what someone has done to you, try to still see God in them. And if you sincerely cannot remove the bitterness you feel in your heart towards them, Jesus says, pray for them. Ask God to change them, to transform them completely.
4. To be Perfect, Start Thinking like God
“Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Christian perfection is being conscious of the fact that you are God’s temple; it is treating your body not merely as an object of pleasure but as a medium of worship.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul explains further: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2).
Christian perfection is operating not by the standards of the world but by the standards of God. St. Paul says the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. Again, to remind us of what Jesus taught us two Sundays ago, as Christians, we are the salt and the light of the world. We are meant to show good examples rather than copy that which is popular.
Conclusion: To be perfect, is to love your neighbour as yourself
Our first reading today beautifully sums everything for us: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, free me from all forms of bitterness that I may be kind even to those who have done me harm in the past. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (7th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Lev. 19:1-2,17-18, Ps. 103, 1 Cor. 3:16-23, Mt 5:38-48).
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu