Focus Scripture – Matthew 5:43-48 (NKJV)
Verses 45-47 of today’s scripture remind us that we’re all sons and daughters of God in heaven, who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good. We are children of the Most High God who makes rain fall on the just as well as the unjust. We see this principle at work every day. The sun does not give its light only to people who voted a certain way in a given political race and withhold that same light from people who voted for the opposition. The rain does not fall only in Roseland and Englewood, but it also falls on the Gold Coast and along the Magnificent Mile. The sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous indiscriminately. God is gracious to all humanity, including some whom the Pharisees – both ancient and modern-day – would consider being morally undeserving. In other words, we are all children of God and benefit from God’s love equally. We need to love our neighbors and our enemies precisely because that is how God loves us.
I think what the Pharisees fail to understand is that there’s trouble enough to go around. They need to recognize that life is rough, and scripture tells us that there is no salvation for us unless we endure to the end. If we’re going to survive to the end, we need to figure out ways to help each other make it through the troubles of our day. And that involves being in relationships that seek to make life work for the good of all. Jesus described right relationships and admonished all of us to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). How righteous does one need to be?
Verse 48 says, “Be perfect, … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” You’re probably saying that perfection is a stringent standard to meet. It sounds as if Jesus is raising the bar to unattainable heights. But, as with everything else, if we examine this verse carefully, things are made more explicit.
The critical Greek word used in this passage is telos, which can indeed be translated as the English word “perfect.” However, telos typically denotes something that has grown up, matured, and now has reached its perfect end. If we look at it from that perspective, telos is the goal or desired outcome of a thing. So you see, Jesus is not dictating an unachievable ideal; rather, he is challenging his listeners to grow in obedience to God’s will. We may not love our enemies right now. We may not even recognize who they are. But telos demands that we give it a try. And our attempts to reach the higher goal should be persistent.
Loving our neighbors as well as our enemies is the ideal toward which God would have us strive. It doesn’t mean that we have to be flawless as God is flawless. We all know that’s impossible. Rather, being perfect means constantly striving to give the same generosity to others that we’ve received from God in such abundance. Being perfect requires us to go beyond the letter of the law and pay attention to its spirit. To summarize, striving toward perfection means treating love as if it were an action verb, remembering that we’re all in this together, and never stopping until we reach that higher goal.