Imagine a large city, where a major sports event has just occurred – the sport doesn’t really matter – but the hometown crowd takes to the streets after a game, and jubilantly shouts in the streets at the tops of their voices ,” We’re number FOUR!”
Or perhaps we can think of dropping a child off before a test, or exam, or a tryout for a competitive team or activity, and giving them this advice, “ Now I want you to go in there and try to be just barely adequate.” Or even ourselves in our workplaces with this thought – I deserve a promotion or a raise because my performance is the absolute minimum.”
That’s hardly the case. In reality, we put so much effort, and try so hard to encourage those close to us, to perform to the best of their abilities when it comes to improving their lot in life, to being the best performer, to being the one with the most opportunities to chose from; unfortunately most of these are more about ‘having’ than ‘being’…it’s more about having more money to buy more things and have more ‘stuff’ – or having a position of greater strength or power, or control over others for our own benefit.
Being the best in sports, the best in school or academics, the best in the business world or in industry or the arts or science…we divert so much of our energy ‘striving’ for these things, always trying to improve, to be the best; to be perfect .
And yet, we know that no matter how hard we try in any of our endeavours, even if we meet the pinnacle of success, there will always come a day when someone will break that record, or achieve a higher score, or a higher salary: but we don’t stop trying.
‘Being’ is not the same as ‘having’. Being the best person we can be – the most compassionate; the most caring; the most generous or charitable or loving: These things are more about being – but they don’t seem to be uppermost in our minds when we think about ‘achieving’ or ‘striving’.
We encourage our children to be the ‘best they can be’ at whatever they choose to become in life;
How often do we, as Christians, apply that same standard to our relationship with God? How much effort do we honestly put into that ‘striving’ to grow towards our Creator?
In our passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus tells his listeners to ‘be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” To be perfect just like God; that’s a pretty tall order, and we might at first glance see that as an impossible suggestion from Jesus;
Look at the examples he cites of perfection;
-if someone strikes you on your right cheek turn and offer your left
-pray for those who persecute you, for your enemies
He’s building on the Beatitudes; if we suffer persecutions and pray for our enemies – if we put our faith on the line and live what we preach – we will be the children of God. We will be an image of God in the world.
As children we will be moving towards the perfection that Jesus talks about.
It’s not a perfection that we equate in some worldly fashion; like having some artificial cosmetic standards – the perfect smile or the perfect physique or the perfect house: it’s the perfection of the ultimate goal of every soul – a return to God who loved every soul into existence.
Every person was created in the image and likeness of God; that ‘likeness’ or ‘resemblance’ is very much like a mirror, reflecting God who is the ultimate in perfection; God who is Truth, God who is Love, God who is Mercy and Goodness and Life; during the course of our lives though, we allow things to cloud that mirror – our own desires, ambitions, attachments : and quite often we allow that relationship or reflection of God, to become clouded; that mirror becomes distorted, very much like a mirror in a carnival funhouse – our likeness becomes distorted and misshapen, and can end up bearing very little resemblance to, or likeness of, God.
But as children of God through baptism, we know that we have the opportunity to ‘straighten out’ or ‘reform’ that mirror within us. That the all-merciful God is always there to help us, to give us the grace to clean and polish that mirror from within; it is the one thing in this lifetime, the one ‘perfection’ that really is worth striving for, because from this ‘likeness’, everything else in our lives will flow outward.
We can become like God; merciful in all things; just and charitable to all people; loving unconditionally. Jesus illustrates how unconditionally God loves all He has created; “He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” God continually gives opportunities to everyone to come back into relationship with Him; and when we are tempted to feel that some of those people He blesses are undeserving, because maybe they have been unkind to us, or have criticized our Church, or have publicly denied God; we realize just how far from ‘perfect’ our ‘likeness’ of God really is – that we still have work to do on polishing our own mirrors, because in that type of attitude, we fail to contemplate the generosity of God – a God who always calls his children back to Him no matter what they have done.
We forget that God has been and is always as generous with each of us, no matter how many times we ourselves have failed Him and have hurt others in our lives, and yet He has always been there to forgive us and help and guide us.
There is a cost though, to this perfection; to move toward it, we have to want it.
Instinctively within, our souls know they were created to be reunited with God. It’s what has been referred to by some writers as a ‘Holy Longing,”. We may not understand it or realize it all the time on a rational level, but it is still there, burning within us. At times, we become aware of it on an emotional level, and it is at those times, that our desire to unite with God becomes even stronger, that the instinctive ‘want’ grows within us. We can come to a greater awareness of this every time we seriously enter into prayer, into conversation with God; any time we prayerfully receive the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
And the more we are aware of this longing, the more we desire it, the more we strive after it. But here is the great paradox in this – the only work we have to do, is open our hearts and minds enough to say, yes to God, and let the Holy Spirit do all the work.
We can begin a return to that ‘likeness’ by simply saying “yes God, I desire to return to you, to be a true reflection of you in all things. I recognize that I cannot do this by my own efforts, but only through your goodness, your mercy, and your love.”
That’s a perfection that is truly worth striving for.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!