For the past two weeks, I've been watching the competition at the Olympics. Part of the storyline at the Olympics has to do with whether or not any athlete can handle the pressure and rise to the occasion. Often, the commentator will say, "If he's going to win the gold, he's going to have to be perfect." Or, "She needs a perfect run, if she has any hope of making it to the podium." Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't, and the athlete falls short of the goal. Quickly reports run to athlete to ask, “Do you feel like you’ve failed? As if all your work has been in vain?” Though they are the best in the world at what they do, I wonder if they do often feel like they have failed, fallen short of expectations, been less than perfect. I wonder if in our own lives, we don't sometimes feel that we have to be perfect, or else? When we fall short, are we failures?
I suppose it doesn't help that Jesus ends this section of his teaching by saying that we should be perfect, just as the Heavenly Father is perfect. If that is the standard, then we fall short everyday, in everything we do. And yet, where Jesus is leading us is deeper into God's love for us. A love that knows us for the imperfect people we really are. And that's the strange part of Jesus' teaching here. When we comes to terms with our brokenness, our failures, the many and various ways we fall short by standing face-to-face with God, we find ourselves loved, fully and deeply, and God's love for us makes us whole. That's what perfect, in the Gospel sense means; it means lacking nothing. In Christ, in God's love, we lack nothing. We are made perfect, complete, whole.
All Jesus tells his disciples to do in this sermon Jesus has done for us by his own death and resurrection.
All Jesus tells his disciples to do in this sermon — love enemies, turn the other cheek, share clothing and food, go am extra mile — all these point us back to what Jesus has done for us by his own death and resurrection. He was slapped, but did not return blow for blow; he was made to carry his own cross until he could not walk anymore. Someone was drafted from the crowd to go the last distance with him; his enemies taunted him as he died, but Jesus forgave them. Jesus laid down his life to end violence and revenge. By his cross, his love Jesus has taken away all our sins. He has made us perfect in his love for us.
Everywhere we turn, we see people who need all sorts of things, but mostly they need to be loved, loved like Jesus loves them, like Jesus loves us. Think of the people you have brushed up against these past few days or people who have brushed up against you. We don't really take the time to get to know them or to listen to them. We quickly see them and assess them and get on with our lives. But, Jesus is saying that his disciples, his people can take the time to stop, listen and respond with generosity and love. Complete in God's love, we can endure the slap or slight to share God's love and forgiveness in a transformative way.
Most of the athletes who compete in the Olympics never make it to the podium, and we never see them on TV. Yet, somehow, I do not think the people who know them and love them consider consider them disappointments or failures. So, maybe the way we tell the story, maybe our definition of perfection — as something derived from comparison and competition is simply wrong. In the end, perfection is not being better than someone else nor is perfection flawlessness or winning or earning or achieving. Perfection is being loved by God for Jesus’ sake. You are loved. God loves you, and when God looks at you God sees the perfect image of his Son. You are whole, loved, saved. What else matters? What else do we need when we are whole and well in God’s praise, made perfect in Jesus' name. Amen.
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