Lent is coming soon …
That last line is quite a challenge, isn’t it?? “Be perfect.”
In this book: Be A Perfect Person, Stephen Manes writes:
Congratulation! You’re not perfect! It’s ridiculous to want to be perfect anyway. But then, everybody’s ridiculous sometimes, except perfect people. You know what perfect is? Perfect is not eating or drinking or talking or moving a muscle or making even the teensiest mistake. Perfect is never doing anything wrong – which means never doing anything at all. Perfect is boring! So you’re not perfect! Wonderful! Have fun! … You can drink pickle juice and imitate gorillas and do silly dances and sing stupid songs and wear funny hats and be as imperfect as you please and still be a good person. Good people are hard to find nowadays. And they’re a lot more fun than perfect people any day of the week.
So if we believe Manes that we can never be perfect, and perhaps we should not even try to be, what do we do with this difficult word from Jesus? It’s helpful to learn that the word most often translated “perfect” actually comes from the Greek word telos, which means goal, end, or purpose. Jesus is not urging us to be what most people think of as “perfect,” but rather to be more like what God intends for us to be. You are a child of God, made in God’s image. Now live like it.
Now, that may not make things any easier, but it does help put the challenge into a more useful context. The only way we can possibly live as Jesus is asking – repaying evil with good, forgiving and praying for those who harm us, walking the extra mile – is by living into our God-given identity as beloved children. You know you can’t give what you don’t know. Only those who have known God’s love can possibly hope to share it with others. Jesus isn’t asking us, like some demanding parents, to make all “A’s,” get lots of trophies, be named “member of the year.” Jesus is nudging us to live the God-given identity you received at baptism: You are a child of God.
It is Jesus who gave us the greatest example – He was the perfect model – he talked the talk and walked the walk. Is it easy to follow His example? Certainly not. We struggle to overcome past disappointments, to overcome old grudges, deep-seated prejudices, smoldering resentments. It’s our greatest challenge … not to be perfect, but to be mindful of what is getting in our way and preventing us from being the people God wants us to be. So I ask …What is blocking you? What fears or memories or resentments keep you from being the person God wants you to be?
What is it that keeps us from living into our identity as a child of God? Lent is the time to remove the impediments so that you can truly embrace our God-given identity as citizens of his Heavenly Kingdom. Recall the lines credited to Saint Teresa of Calcutta:
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis it was never between you and them anyway; it is between you and God.
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Gospel Matthew 5:38-48
Reflection by S. Roberta Bailey, OSB