It has taken us eight days, but today we reach the end of chapter five of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout this chapter, Jesus has been instructing his disciples in what we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. This discourse will continue for two more chapters, but the content of chapter five stands apart from the rest of the discourse in that it asks the disciples to reinterpret their understanding of the covenant that has existed between God and the children of Israel ever since their escape from Egypt.
St. Matthew uses a rhetorical figure of speech: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,. . . but I say to you. . .” He asks the disciples to take a step forward to see the heart of the Law and not simply the letter of the Law. At the end of the chapter, makes a statement that is rather shocking: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I would imagine that each of us here realizes that we are far from perfect. St. Matthew is the only evangelist to use this word. He does so again in chapter nineteen in the encounter with the rich young man. Does Jesus really expect us to be perfect? Can any human being really be perfect? You know the answer to these questions as well as I do.
As a former English teacher, I like to think of the word “perfect” in the grammatical sense. The Perfect Tense in English expresses completion, something done in the past. So I tend to read this statement substituting the word “complete” where it reads “perfect.” Be complete as your heavenly Father is complete. Be completely integrated – mind, body, heart and strength – in your love for God and for your neighbor. Let your every action speak of the perfect human being as integrated and whole. Let your faith inform your actions and your speech and your love of God and neighbor shine in your every deed.
Only God is flawless. Jesus teaches the disciples a different way of life that is summed up in his perfect sacrifice on the cross. As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we remember that we too must strive to offer our lives to God and neighbor.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator