I am a full blown perfectionist, ever since I can remember. Not just in schoolwork, or in my job, but in my marriage and relationships, and especially in living the Christian life. I used to think that God would only love me if I followed His way perfectly, if I didn’t break any of the “rules” and followed His will in everything. It’s only recently that God has started to heal me from that bondage and show me that it cripples my soul more than it helps. Which is why the Gospel verse today has always tripped me up. God tells us to be perfect! So what’s the problem? The problem is that’s not what God really said.
First of all, He tells us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. It is Christ who lives in us in His divine perfection, not our own. We are called to let His perfect love work through us even in our brokenness and sin. Because no human being is perfect (except for for one, and none of us are her!). Christ is telling us in this passage that we are called to surrender and let the Father’s perfection mold us, shape us, and work through us... not to be perfect on our own.
But secondly, and more importantly, the Bible wasn’t written in English. After doing some research for this study, I discovered that the Greek word used in this passage that we imperfectly translate as “perfect” is the the word telios. It “refers to something being completed, brought to its full purpose, potential and intended end and vocation.”
A car is most telios when it is being driven from one destination to another. A chair is most telios when someone is sitting in it. And we, as human beings are most telios when we love as God loves. Go back and read the preceding lines of this passage - Christ is teaching that we are only complete and made whole when we love radically, including loving our enemies and those who don’t love us back. We are brought to our fullest potential when we pray for those who persecute us (or break our hearts or misunderstand us or jude us). We are most human when we love. Meaning anything that causes us to turn away from this type of love - such as our own hurt, selfishness, or sin - actually makes us less human. It takes away from our telios.
So interior perfection doesn’t mean following all the rules perfectly, it means growing in love. It doesn’t mean that we can’t ever mess up, but that we can’t ever stop loving. Christ never stopped loving, even on the Cross. He prayed for those who were persecuting Him, telling the Father that they “know not what they do.” He is our model, leading us to wholeness. The rules of the Christian life are simply there to help guide us and safeguard this way of love. They can’t become a stumbling block to love, as St. Paul understood - “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2) We are nothing without love. It is what we were created to do.
But the only way to get this interior perfection, this interior wholeness of love, is by letting Love Himself mold us. We can’t try to do it or obtain it on our own, lest it become another occasion of perfectionism and self-reliance. Let Christ’s love shape your own heart, and the rest will flow naturally. Let it fill you up to the brim so that it has to overflow onto those around you. Even if you are broken... that’s the only way the love gets out.
Are there people in your life that you could do a better job loving with Christ’s love? Are there people you could pray for who have persecuted you? Lent is the perfect opportunity to take stock of our hearts and seek the transformation He wants to bestow on us. You only have to ask. And then watch as true peace, true wholesome shalom, fills your heart.
Prayer for Holiness
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me so, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy. Amen.
Prayer for Peace of Heart
Almighty and Eternal God,Give me, I beseech You, the great gift of inward peace.
Command the winds and storms of my unruly passions. Subdue, by Your grace, my proneness to love created things too much. Give me a love of suffering for Your sake.make me forbearing and kind to others, that I may avoid quarrels and contentions.And teach me constantly to seek after
and to acquire that perfect resignation to Your Holy Will which alone brings interior peace. Amen.