Matthew 5:43-45; 48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust… 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
What a strange kingdom, this Kingdom of God! Nothing is meant to be the same as in the Kingdoms of the world. Perhaps this is best illustrated in Jesus’ sermons on the mount. Jesus gives his hearers an exhaustive teaching on the differences between the way things were understood to be, and how they actually are and will be in the Kingdom of God. The kicker, the real cherry on top, is perhaps this line, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How outrageous! What does it even mean, to be perfect?
In Seminary, my professor for a class on the book of Matthew asked us to read the entire book of Matthew in one sitting (how outrageous!) His hope was that we would see the unity of the book, and to notice connections we otherwise miss when we parcel out bits of scripture that we like (or don’t). Prior to this experience, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” was one of those pieces of scripture that seemed to stand alone, as an unattainable goal or an out-of-touch command. It was as if the preceding verses didn’t exist! I only had eyes for the show-stopper at the end of the paragraph.
Consider, however, the context. Jesus actually tells the hearers what he means by, “Be perfect!” He tells them that we should be like our Father, a Father who makes the sun rise on those who are deserving, and those who are not! This Father, who sends rain on those who “behave rightly” and those who do not, by these very acts shows us what it means to be perfect. Deciding how to treat people based on something so small as our personal preferences, common interests, preferred party, or religious beliefs, has no place in the Kingdom of God. Instead, ushering in the Kingdom of God means acting like the ruler of the Kingdom. We let God shape our lives, teaching us how to love those who we think are unjust and unrighteous. In this way, we begin to “Be perfect,” and begin to inhabit the Kingdom we claim.
God, teach us to be perfect, as you are perfect! Help us to love those who we consider unloveable, unworthy, and undeserving. Help us to see that we, too, more likely fall in the category of “unjust,” and that we are undeserving recipients of your mercy. Help us to usher in the Kingdom of God with extravagant love and mercy to all those we encounter. Amen.