How can we be perfect?

by May Tam
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

Today's Gospel reading is a continuation of last Sunday's reading, the series which were known as antitheses of the “counsels of perfection”. The series began with contrasting declarations from Jesus who juxtaposed His own demands on the Mosaic Law. Of the six antitheses, these last two may well be considered the climaxes of perfection as they require a mode of conduct that goes beyond fundamental requirement of the moral law and normal human behaviour. But they were so well known that these sayings of Jesus-------“turn the other cheek”, “go an extra mile” and “love your enemies”-------have become idioms in our everyday lives and the yardsticks of how “nice” one truly is. Why then do such radical and harsh demands find their way into our everyday language? Could it be something that lies behind these demands that touches our human hearts, something transcendent, something that is beautiful, good and true?

We all are, more or less, governed by a set of moral law which provides a basic framework for human relationship in the society. By observing and practising what is required, we can be regarded basically as “good people” in the strict human sense. There is nothing “wrong” about such a way of living. But as Christians, moral law is only a mean not an end in our relationship with our fellowmen and with God. It is a foundation for us to develop more fully that relationship which is more than a matter of “meeting the requirement”. Here is what Jesus challenges us: a call to transform from “nice people” to “holy people”, a call to perfect from “good people” to “saintly people”, a call to share God's likeness, to participate in His own life and love, a call to become more beautiful, better and truer, something deep inside that the human heart yearns for (rf St Augustine, Conf. 1, 1, 1:PL 32, 659-661, Ps 42:1-2; 63: 1).

But how can we be perfect as human beings who are much less than the “Father who is perfect” (Mt 5:48), the infinite and omnipotent God? Dear friends, do not be discouraged by Jesus' call for perfection. Relying only on our own efforts, it is an impossible task but Jesus knows our weaknesses and limitations, all He wants is our unswerving trust in Him and our perseverance in trying for “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26) and “nothing shall be impossible with [Him]” (Lk 1:37).

“Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none” (St Gregory of Nyssa, De vita Mos.: PG 44, 300D).