Compare Luke 6:27-36
A very memorable passage. (There are, of course, few sayings of Jesus in the gospels that aren’t memorable.)
First of all, there is his description of radical Christian love, directed even at enemies. Such love can sometimes even stop an enemy in his or her tracks. Consider, for example, the case of the people of Ammon, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, described in Alma 24.
Such love is exceedingly difficult to feel and to practice when one has been wronged, and particularly when the wrong is ongoing. But it’s clearly the path of Christian discipleship laid out by the Savior himself.
I’m reminded of an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln: In the wake of the American Civil War, or, at least, as that terrible war was drawing to its conclusion, an associate faulted him for the lenient treatment that he recommended for the leaders and soldiers of the Confederacy. “We must destroy our enemies!” thundered the critic. “But,” Lincoln responded, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
I would like, though, to comment for a few lines on the last verse in today’s reading: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
In grammar, “perfect” verbs indicate completed, finished, action, as opposed to an action that continues or a process that isn’t yet concluded. This, I think, is related to the Greek adjective teleoi, which is translated here by the English perfect. Compare the German adjective vollkommen, which is typically also translated as perfect and which, since Martin Luther’s great 1545 translation, has been the usual German translation of teleioi in Matthew 5:48. The word vollkommen literally means something like “fully come,” “completely arrived.” Think of James 1:4 and its “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
Teleioi (sg. teleios) can also be translated as “initiated,” as in the rites of the ancient Greek “mysteries” — a very interesting fact that deserves its own careful analysis someday.
The closely related Greek word telos signifies a “natural end.” For instance, it’s the natural end of an acorn to become an oak. Aristotle placed a great deal of weight on this idea of “natural ends,” and we still have the word teleology today as a result of it.
So we can perhaps say that being teleios is to be “mature,” to have arrived at the natural end or condition for which one has been “intended.” And, in Matthew 5:48, it seems that it’s our natural end to grow up to be like our Heavenly Father, just as earthly children grow up, unless something intervenes, to be like their parents.
As the apostle Paul taught on Mars Hill in Athens, we are God’s “offspring,” his genos (Acts 17:28-29). The Greek word genos is obviously closely related to the Latin and English genus, and, for that matter, to English kin.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17; compare Galatians 4:7)