Reflection for Tuesday, June 15, 1999: 11th week in Ordinary Time.
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Shanahan, Tom, S.J.
Let the last words of today's gospel reading sink into your mind, heart and body. These words are the pithy conclusion of an important part of the gospel of Matthew's two-chapter summary of Jesus' teaching known to us as the "Sermon on the Mount. " The "sermon" basically tells how his followers are to live their lives. It ends with the demand, "So be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (the emphasis is mine)!"||Give that sentence to a perfectionist or a wannabe perfectionist and see what happens. It has to be one of the most intimidating lines in the New Testament. I have struggled with the meaning of that sentence for a long time (I may not be a perfectionist - take a look at my office -); still that sentence grabs me by the throat. My guess is that I will struggle with it to my dying day. What can it possibly mean for us human critters to be as perfect as God?|To understand, we need to consider the themes and the whole context of the Sermon on the Mount. One of those themes is the match, and integration, between what we say and what we do. To paraphrase the passage immediately preceding the challenging statement, we say that we love, but if we only love those who love us back, there is a discrepancy. Everyone loves their own, but Jesus asks us to go yet further to love those who cannot or do not love us back. To love the poor of our world (found among so many situations!), is to make a match between what we say or intend and what we do.|That ideal: not only loving those who are relatively easy to love, but to love those who call out to us and need our love, is, according to Jesus' words ending the Sermon on the Mount, the very way that God loves. There is an integrity between what God says (the Word of God) and what God does. That's the ideal that is captured in the haunting sentence ("be perfect as your heavenlyFather is perfect").|We accomplish the perfection that Jesus asks of us here only partially and imperfectly. Let's face that reality first. But we can respond to the challenge to desire and to pursue that integrity between what we say (or intend) and what we do.|"So be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" remains an untamed challenge to the human spirit and condition. But it becomes more real when we seek to live a more integral and integrated life. A huge challenge, an enormous task, but doable insofar as we open ourselves to the integrity (perfection) that Jesus calls us to here - the integrity that God exhibits between what God says and what God does.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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