Scripture (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus said to his disciples:
"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Although not a direct translation of Scripture, I often turn to The Message when I’m puzzling over a difficult Bible passage. It’s easy to forget that the original books of the Bible were not written in formal language because the language seems so formal to us—so different from what we’re used to. The Message provides an idiomatic translation of the Bible, trying to recapture the Word in words we use today.
The conclusion of this passage is, for me, one of those puzzling verses. Jesus tells us that we should “be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
The stumbling block for me in this reading is that this high call to perfection actually becomes an excuse. Be perfect? Clearly, that’s not going to happen. It’s impossible. I’m human. I fall short every day. Since I know I can’t even approach that high standard, it’s not too difficult to let myself off the hook. I am not God and cannot pretend to be perfect. And since God created me, surely God understands this!
But The Message doesn’t allow me this easy excuse. This translation makes it clear that one of the meanings of “perfect” as used in the New Testament is “mature” or “grown up.” And The Message spells out Jesus’ words this way:
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Now this is something I can wrap my human head and heart around. Grow up! Surely, we’ve all heard—and probably said—those words at some point in our lives. As someone who believes that I am a beloved child of God, as someone who has been blessed immeasurably by God’s grace and generosity, I am called to put aside the desire for revenge, to forsake pettiness, to give my best—even to those who seem to bring out my worst. Each of us is called to do no less.
- In what ways do I need to “grow up” and live more graciously and generously toward others—especially those I find hard to love?
- What small steps can I take this Lenten season to live out my identity as God’s beloved child?
These Lenten reflections are written by friends of 12plus1, Inc. Discovery House a service-based gap year experience for participants ages 18-20 will begin August 2018. Please share this information with an individuals who may want to participate or support this new ministry.
Pray today for those people you find most challenging to love. Pray, too, for your ability to show God’s grace and generosity to these people in a concrete and specific way during this Lenten season.
Sandra J. Christensen is is a grant writer, adult educator, and most imperfect child of God.