With the closing line in today’s Gospel(Matt. 5:48) Jesus gives a challenge that carries a lot of weight, but offers us a way to true happiness, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There is a lot packed in to this one line; “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Can we really be perfect? Yes, and according to Christ it is by love; “Love your enemies and pay for those who persecute you.” Our usual strategy might be to avoid our enemies, or to simply put up with them, but to actually love them?
What Jesus is trying to show us here is that love is not about feelings, or about loving those who love us, but rather desiring good for the other. To give an example, [to love a friend we could just do so because we know that we will receive something good in return, but when you love an enemy, who will not return in kind, you truly know that you are loving].
If you notice in the first reading(from the old law) we are told “love your neighbor as yourself,” but Jesus, in his ‘new commandment’(in fulfilling the old law by making himself its centre) tells us to love our neighbor as he loves us. This is really where the revolution of the heart is, because anyone can love those who love them, as even those who do not believe in Christ do, but we must “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].” Can you imagine getting to heaven and the first person you meet is the one you liked the least on earth? It’s possible, after all, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God desires the good of all, and his love extends to all the same, saints and sinners alike, even to those with the worst intentions. For God IS love. And Jesus asks us to love as he loves us? But how can we possibly love like this? The truth is that we can’t love as we ought to on our own, but we can with Him and through Him.
By Christ’s death on the cross he took the Church(which is all of us) as his spouse(laying down his life for his bride) and gifted to her the Holy Spirit making us, each one of us, in a very personal way members of his body. As St.Paul says, the two became one flesh. In a tangible way this is the gift of the Eucharist to us, supernatural food for our Christian souls to supplement our weak efforts and keep us strong, united with Him, as we follow this difficult path. So we now share perfectly with Christ in his atonement(reparation for our sins), in his supernatural life(received through the sacraments), and in his triumph(through the resurrection-eternal life).We have the power, in and with Christ and the Holy Spirit, to overcome the world and the devil. We are promised perfection in him, provided we desire, cooperate, and ask for it!
We have this ideal, to “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and we also have Jesus Christ, his Son, who shows us by his example this path that we must take, walking it ahead of us and beside us. He was betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, tortured, humiliated, unjustly condemned, and put to death. He loves us as we are, that even while with our sins we keep acting as his enemies today. To see with the eyes of Christ on the cross; these are the eyes with which we need to gaze upon our enemies; If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well, if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them a second mile!
If you want to be perfect begin by loving your enemies! They will be your aid in reaching perfection. Today, think of one person you have a hard time getting along with, or someone whom you do not like being around. Start with saying a prayer for them and for the opportunity to see them with the eyes of Christ. Are you holding a grudge with anyone, or seeking vengeance, or not speaking with someone because of differences. Pray for Jesus to show you a way to love. Pay attention to the thoughts that cross your mind about others this week, and take those moments to offer a prayer. Instead of calculating your love (ie. I won’t do this for that person they did this to me; I won’t speak to them because they did or didn’t do this to/for me) open yourself to God’s love for you and look for opportunities and invitations to love those that are most difficult for you to love; start in little ways.
It is by our love that we are set apart from the world, and it is in our love that we have the opportunity to be like our God, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.