“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:46
I have hated that verse. It’s always felt so unfair. How am I supposed to be perfect? Why even bother trying to get better at all, if perfect is what I both should and never can hope to be?
Well, I tried. From years of in depth research, with a sample set of one, I am prepared to share my results and even a conclusion or two…not making mistakes is simply impossible if you live as a human in the world. I try to cook all the healthy things. I try to say all the kind and wise things. I try to advocate for others when I sense they can not advocate for themselves. I try to teach my children how to be true people even as I try to learn that for myself. I do many of these things very well. But I certainly don’t do them perfectly.
So have I failed?
I think the teaching I grew up under would say yes. That me failing is the point, because that’s how I’m supposed to know I need Jesus. Like God is this terrible middle school boyfriend who needs you to feel like crap about yourself before He comes and says something kind of nice and you’re so grateful you’ll do anything to keep Him around.
Somewhere along the line I stopped thinking about God that way. God’s no longer a fickle boyfriend I have to figure out how to please Or Else. The problem is, the things that are part of the soil we grew in somehow become part of our very being in a way that is difficult to change. Not impossible. But difficult. So while I can say (and mean) that I don’t think God works that way, I still behave in ways that belie that confidence. I find myself afraid to make mistakes (because as every good little Sunday School student grows up hearing, you may be the only Bible some people ever read so GET IT TOGETHER).
I’ve been thinking a lot about Matthew 5:46 again recently, and how living under the tyranny of it for years may not actually be true to the original intent. What was Jesus getting at? Did he really mean that people shouldn’t make any mistakes? Has he met people? Because words are important to me I went back to the original Greek and found that Teleios, the Greek word for “perfect” used in this case, can mean “without flaw” but it can also mean something like, “having gone through all the steps of a process and reached the end.” Even in English, the word perfect can also mean “complete and absolute” (example: a perfect stranger is not a stranger who makes no mistakes…so an admonition to be perfect in that sense would mean something like “whatever you are be that thing”).
So then, maybe the point of this verse isn’t “don’t make mistakes.” Maybe the point is, “go through all the steps.”
Going through all the steps is how we complete the process of becoming….well I don’t quite know yet. That’s where faith comes in for me. My faith is a belief that if I just keep going, this next part will lead to something…different. Maybe the next moment will be better than this one; maybe not. But I think with faith the general idea is that we move through the world as though the end goal is good and the good points along the way are meant to remind us of that. When people ask me how I’m doing these days, I usually answer, “Lots of ways! But a general upward trend, I think.”
In any given day, I will feel sad, overwhelmed, relieved, grateful, angry, and many more things. I will succeed magnificently, and I will fail spectacularly. I will be perfect.