The assigned readings for last Sunday were tough. On the rare occasion when we are forced to read from the book of Leviticus, the passage begins by telling us that we are to be holy just as God is holy. In the passage from Matthew, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and then says that we are to “be perfect just as your God in heaven is perfect.”
Those commandments are so lofty that we almost feel excused for not taking them too seriously. Like almost every preacher I know, Jesus was prone to hyperbole, and surely that is what this is. Immediately following his teachings that we are to “turn the other cheek” and love our enemies, Jesus says that we are to be perfect just as God is perfect. That may be easier than forgiveness for some of us.
The trouble is this is not an either/or proposition. In fact, I think that what Jesus meant by saying that we are to be “perfect” like God is perfect is that we are to be as forgiving as God is: unconditional and unrelenting.
Jesus observed just before his command to be perfect that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Hmmm … So is he saying that in order to be perfect like God is perfect we have to treat our enemies the way we treat our friends? Again, perfection might be an easier command to obey.
I was pondering this passage on a plane ride when the man in the seat in front of me spilled his drink and, in a voice that could be heard 30,000 feet below, bellowed “Godd____”. Poor God gets blamed for turbulence or clumsiness, diseases caused by our diets or our pollution or our genes. Yet, though we curse Him, yet will he love us. Even when we abandon Her, yet will she cherish us. In the end, it is God’s nature to love the good and the bad, the sinner and the saint, the worshipper and the curser just the same.
Like that. In that same way. We who are disciples are called to live in such a way that we express God’s nature. The Lover of us all doesn’t play favorites. Can we learn to love like that? I don’t know, but I do know that is what Jesus was trying to tell us to do.
by Michael Piazza
Center for Progressive Renewal