The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.
You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."(P) The word of the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O My soul; and all my being, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forgot not all His benefits. (R)
He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R)
Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does He deal with us, nor does He requite us according to our crimes. (R)
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: God catches the wise in their own ruses, and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
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, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
There is a story of a man bitten by a mad dog. He was being treated for rabies but it was not working. It looked as if he was going to die. So the doctor advised him to make his last will. The man got a piece of paper and began to write. He wrote and wrote until finally, the doctor said to him, "Oh Man! That certainly is a lengthy will you are making." "Doctor, I am not making any will", the man said, "I'm just making a list of the people I'm going to bite."
Friends, in today's gospel, Jesus commands us to love everyone, including those who wrong us, instead of taking revenge. Moreover, he calls us to love others, just as God loves us. He says, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." He wants us to be or to do what seems impossible for anyone of us. Nobody is perfect for we all make mistakes and commit sins in our lives. No matter how good we and others think we are or how "religious" we look, we all commit sins. Some sins are committed in public and others in private. Sin is an inherent part of human nature. Sin affects what we think, say and do. Therefore, regardless of how good we try to be, we will never meet God's standards. Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans (3:23) rightly says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is why Jesus died for all people to give us the opportunity to have our sins removed.
In order for us to understand what Jesus means by "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect", we must examine the immediate context of the statement to prevent any distortion and misunderstanding of the word. We have been reading and reflecting upon the Sermon on the Mount which comprises three chapters in the gospel of Matthew. So far we have read Jesus' teaching of the Beatitudes or ways to attain the Blessedness of a Divine Life. Then we heard the analogy of salt and light that Jesus uses to describe the role of Christians in the world. And then we heard Jesus quoting several laws from the scriptures and giving a new interpretation to them. Particularly Jesus asserts the importance of righteousness by saying "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew (5:20) Jesus urges us to go beyond the traditional, ritualistic and legalistic righteousness, and he wants us to think, say and do things with a pure heart. In this context Jesus quotes five laws or examples of the conduct demanded of a Christian. Last week we heard three examples - You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not take a false oath. And today we hear two laws in which Jesus points out what our response should be to those who treat us badly or do us evil - "You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies."
Of course, not all who hear or read these laws obey them completely and faithfully. Nevertheless, Jesus concludes his preaching by saying: "So, be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," to encourage us to at least try and make that as our goal. Jesus makes it clear that the goal of Christian faith is perfection. We are called to be like Jesus, the only one who has lived a perfect and righteous life. So there is no doubt that being Jesus is tough. Someone has rightly said, "The Christian life has not been tried and found difficult; it has been tried and found impossible." So how can we deal with Jesus' demand of perfect love for others?
According to today's passage, what does "perfect" mean? As we know the Old Testament of the Bible was first written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. So, the word "perfect" comes from a Greek word "teleois". "Teleios" is mentioned many times in the New Testament, and it is almost always translated as "perfect, mature, complete and full grown". For example in the gospel of Luke (6:36) Jesus says, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." In other words, one's mercy or compassion or forgiveness for others must be complete or full grown and not partial. So "perfect" here does not mean "sinless perfection or being without any sin". Moreover, in today's passage, Jesus doesn't say a thing about being sinless. It is impossible for any of us to reach that perfection until we die or get to heaven. There is no way we can ever match up to God's perfection.
Jesus neither expects sinless perfection nor demands of us moral equality with God. But he does expect us to grow in the faith, and spiritually mature in the faith. The longer we are in the faith the better we must be as a Christian. We are to love others, just as God loves us. We are to be perfect or complete or full grown or mature in our love for others even for our enemies just like God is to all - "For God makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? If you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?" In other words, in our love for others there can't be any half measures. What is important is not the quality of our love or how we love, but the impartiality of it or who we love. Perfect Christian love is demanded from all us - brothers, sisters, friends, strangers and enemies. Even if our love for others is ignored or rejected or forgotten or taken for granted, we are to still offer our love.
Friends, even while we are ungodly and sinners, enemies to God our Father, He loves us. And now, He's telling us that we need to learn to love even those who are enemies to us. Who is an enemy? An enemy is someone who is hostile to you, one who feels hatred towards you, one who intends to harm you, or one who opposes your interests and who you really do not like. So, that someone could be your boss, co-worker, friend, neighbor, family member, and fellow Christian, or anyone you feel animosity towards. If we don't love people who hate us, use us, offend us, and persecute us then we are no better than anyone else. But to love others just as God loves us we must not only cultivate a heart of love but also the ability to understand others. As long as we condemn others; find fault with others; judge others; measure others' worthiness, our love for them will be affected. We cannot offer complete, perfect, full grown love for anyone with preconditions attached.
Friends, let us learn to walk in humility, love, truth and righteousness before God so as to receive all the divine favors or blessings from Him.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!