“… be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect..” Mt. 5:48
This is a dangerous Gospel. It is dangerous because we misinterpret Jesus teaching in two ways.
One way we misunderstand Jesus teaching to “be perfect” as God is perfect is to think that it means to be perfect by human standards. It is easy to think that God wants us to be like “Little Miss Perfect” whose hair is always in place, who dresses immaculately, and who always has the right thing to say. Or we think that God wants us to be like “Mr. Perfect” who is liked by everyone and always has the right answer. We may even think that God wants us to be like the “perfect” child who is seen but not heard, gets straight A’s, and always obeys their parents. Jesus is not talking about human perfection.
The other mistake we often make in understanding this teaching is to think that Jesus wants us to “try harder” at being good. This can play into our natural perfectionism and lead to burnout. We get so busy trying to be good that we lose track of what God wants from us. Inevitably we will fail to live up to this teaching of Jesus. This failure throws us into the arms of the merciful Father (the very Father we are called to imitate) who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45).”
And mercy is the heart of the matter. The perfection Jesus is calling us to is not human perfection. It cannot be brought about by human effort. It is the perfection of the Father, a perfection of mercy and forgiveness. Like our heavenly Father we are called to respond with gentleness instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of retaliation, generosity instead of frustration. This is the perfection Jesus is calling us to.
Dcn. Lincoln A. Wood