Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38)
Phew! This is a tall order!
Jesus does not say "TRY to be perfect". He does not say "Do your very best" or "Try your hardest". No, he says, "Be perfect".
They seem hard words, and we shrink from them. But there is no mistake here.
Think of the act of contrition which follows confession. The words which nowadays we usually teach to school children and have printed on cards for penitents run like this:
"O my God, because you are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you, and by the help of your grace I will not sin again."
Again and again I hear people say "by the help of your grace, I will TRY not to sin again". Of course, we think. We can only do our best! But that is not what the prayer says. What is going on here?
It is very simple, and very important.
Perfection is not about trying - it is about being. Living in Christ is not about our own efforts, but about God's love. Entering into heaven is not something we achieve, but something which he achieves. Goodness is not what happens through my hard work, but through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
It might seem strange to begin with, but then we realise that this is really what Christian life is all about. If heaven is for those who have done best, achieved the most, worked the hardest, then it will be a place for those who are spiritually the strongest, a place of arrogance and superiority, a place for human pride. It cannot be so.
No. In fact it is those who believe they have no sin, who should be pitied the most.
Christ has told us, blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. Blessed are those who know their need of God, who know their own sin, who are aware of their need for God's grace, who know that Heaven is a Gift not a prize. Blessed are those who say "Have mercy on me a sinner". Blessed are those who live in humility not in pride. Blessed are those who realise that their greatest achievements are always not their achievements, but the work of Christ within them.
We become holy, not through our works, but through His sacraments.
We are made perfect, not by our efforts, but because He is Perfect.
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