By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
In our Jesus story (Matthew 5:38-48), we find our guy doing what he does best … bucking old traditions. One of my favorite things Jesus does is take old, traditional ideas, and turn them on their heads, or blow them out of the water completely.
In this passage, we find him taking on those old standards for being considered a sacred, set apart saint and reinterpreting them for his audience.
“You have heard it said …” he begins, then turns the table saying, “But, I say to you.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also …
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”
Oh, Jesus, I love how he just takes those old impossible standards of holiness … revenge and loving our neighbor … and … um, makes them even more impossible to meet.
Hang on, I think there’s a flaw in Jesus’ logic here somewhere. I mean, those laws over in the Hebrew scriptures were hard enough … not cheating, stealing, gossiping, using others or hating others. But, now, Jesus calls us to be “perfect” … just like God … only with harder standards to meet.
How can we ever now hope to become sacred, set aside saints? I mean it’s one thing to get revenge, but to turn the other cheek? It’s one thing to love a neighbor, but now we have to love our enemies too … and pray for our persecutors?
Jesus has lost his mind … or, perhaps, Jesus, being Jesus and all, is simply calling us into a deeper understanding of perfection. The Greek word used here is teleios, which means consummate human integrity and virtue.
Jesus is not calling us to be some self-righteous prig who is always trying to look perfect. Instead, Jesus is calling us to display consummate human integrity and virtue, and if Jesus knew anything about consummate human integrity and virtue he knew that is was messy, flawed, and fraught with failure and foul-ups.
To be perfect, according to Jesus, is to be fully human, fully alive in the muck and mire of life’s imperfections, foul-ups, inconsistencies, maddening situations and messy relationships. To be perfect is to see the flaws and brokenness of one another and know that we are beholding true, holy beauty.
To be perfect, according to Jesus, is not look the other way when the pain and messiness of life rears its ugly head … but to see that rearing head as beauty, and holiness itself, and embrace it fully – take it into yourself – and turn all that ugliness of life into love, compassion and joy.
You have heard it said that to be holy means being without any flaws … but I say to you, to be holy means to be a ripple in the water of perfection … to let the imperfections of life break open your heart so that God’s holy and perfect love may flow through you and out into this flawed, messy, broken and perfect world.
Breathe deeply …