by: Andrew Loyd
Jesus said WHAT?!
Sometimes Jesus says things that confuse us. So how do we make sense of scriptures that are weird? What do we make of statements that Jesus makes that we don't understand? I think the answer is to wrestle with it!
So, grab your coffee, turn to Matthew 5:48, and get ready to wrestle.
Matthew 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
So Jesus asks us to be perfect? Isn't that weird? We recently had a sermon where we talked about how the good news of Jesus Christ frees us from the feeling of perfectionism and performance. You can access that here.
So if that's the case, why in the world does Jesus say this? Does God disagree with himself? Is Jesus contradicting himself? How do we make sense of this?
One of the first things we need to do is look at Jesus' statement closely and find out what is going on when Jesus says this.
This Scripture takes place during the Sermon on the Mount. An account of Jesus teaching people about the kingdom of God and what it means to live as followers of King Jesus. And who was invited to this teaching session? The people who seemed least likely to succeed. The latter portion of Matthew 4 tells us that Jesus was spending time with people with paralysis, the demon infected, lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. These would have been the people voted least likely to amount to anything at Jerusalem high, but Jesus sees them as beautiful and invites them to be a part of his kingdom. We must know Jesus' audience so we can have a better understanding of Matthew 5:48.
How in the world can Jesus tell these messed-up people (and us) that we need to be perfect? The answer lies in the word perfect and the image it would have given Jesus' original hearers.
When we see the word perfect, we think of someone without fault or error. Seems unrealistic, right? Being perfect is a lot of work. It weighs us down and keeps us from really living life. But another way to think of this work for perfect is the word complete. The Greek word used in this Scripture is τέλειος, which can also mean 'complete.' So another way of understanding this Scripture is to say "be complete as my heavenly Father is complete."
The word complete helps us have a better understanding of Jesus' point. Rather than thinking about all the things we have to do, we instead think about how we become whole. We think about what it means to be complete. The word complete turns our attention away from us and toward Jesus. The invitation isn't to try harder. Instead, the invitation is to find our wholeness in God who calls us his children through the work of Christ. Jesus invites us to become whole as we trust in what he has accomplished on our behalf in his cross and resurrection. He sacrificed his life for us so that we can be a part of God's family. And Jesus' original hearers would have thought about sacrifice when they heard the word perfect (complete).
In Jesus' day, the only way to deal with sin was to have a pure (or perfect) animal die in your place. Sin leads to death, and the only way people could be made right with God was by having a pure animal take on their sin and die in their place. The sacrificial animal foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, who died on a cross in our place and took care of sin once and for all. So, Jesus' call to be perfect is an invitation to trust in the perfect one who gave his life for us. When we do this, we are complete and stand righteous before God because of what Jesus has done.
So, what do we do with this? Well, the first thing we should do is turn to Jesus in gratitude. We don't have to earn our way into heaven. Jesus has provided the solution to perfectionism based on his perfection. He offers us restoration and wholeness through his broken body and the empty tomb. Let us lay our need to be perfect at the foot of the cross and trust in the perfection of Jesus. May that be the source of our validation as we seek to share his goodness and grace with others.
Pastor Andrew Loyd