October 2015

Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect


[Matthew 5.48]

The meaning and significance of this Saying is, I believ e, only accessible by way of using it in contemplative prayer. Certainly, it has to do with God's call to his people (to all people, really) to be "holy as God is holy" (Leviticus 19.2). This the necessity laid upon us all to strive for high standards of morality and behaviour while exercising self-restrai nt and personal discipline.

However, this Saying, spoken by Jesus, comes in the middle of The Sermon on the Mount. And we know that this te aching carries the whole idea of truly "holy" behaviour far beyond what most of the Old Testament (and indeed most of the human race) considers as goodne ss.

There is a clue in the word which Matthew uses for perfect, the Greek word teleios. This has a sense of something accomplished, a fitti ng achievement and conclusion. When someone asked the saintly Coptic leader Pope Shenouda III"how can anyone be perfect?", he responded by pointing out t hat when a young child paints a picture, it may seem ugly and incomplete to grown-ups, but to the child it is perfect, the very best they can achieve.


So, "perfect" in the New Testament context has a strong sense of potential and development, of a future state as well as a present reality. P aul's prayer for the Christians in Corinth carries this meaning (2 Corinthians 13.9).

From the Divine perspective the whole of creation is "good" (Genesis 1) and yet in a state of incompleteness moving towards perfection. So the phrase "you shall be holy" is both a command and a promise. A powerfully touching comment comes in Jennifer Worth's book "Call the Midwife." She writes about delivering a baby:

"The baby is now a separate being. I wrap him in towels and hand him to his mother, who cradles him, coos over him, kisses him, calls him "beautiful, lovely, an angel." Qu ite honestly, a baby covered in blood, still slightly blue, eyes screwed up, in the first few minutes afterbirth, is not an object of beauty. But the mothe r never sees him that way. To her, he is all perfection." 

This surely mirrors the deep and unquenchable love of God who in the words of one spiritual writer is "luring us to completeness."

(Note.  For another perspective on the Saying read Matthew 19.21 and Hebrew s 2.10)