Q: “What does Jesus mean when He tells us to be perfect?”
A: When we hear in the Bible that Jesus tells us to be perfect, it is almost too easy to dismiss it as being impossible. Who can be perfect? Especially given the fact that every day I admit before my heavenly Father that I am a sinner.
When we hear the word “perfect,” we often associate it as being without mistakes. But the word for “perfect” in Greek, the language in which the New Testament is written, is teleios
is defined as being brought to completion, fully mature.
The perfection Jesus is calling us to is to persevere in becoming the person God created us to be. God knows that we are going to make mistakes. God knows that we are going to experience trials. God knows the wounds we carry. God also knows who He created us to be. And He gives us the grace to persevere in bringing to completion who He created us to be.
Sometimes our lives get messy. Sometimes the mistakes are big. Sometimes the wounds seem to never cease to bleed. But there is no time in which God gives up on us becoming who we were created to be.
Soon-to-be St. John Paul II stated it so beautifully at the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of Our Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”
Amidst all the mistakes, trials and wounds that we all encounter, it is important to know that we are not the sum of all these. What makes us who we are is Our Father’s love for us and the real capacity He has placed within us to become the image of His Son.
St. Catherine of Siena was known to say; “be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
The path of becoming who God meant us to be is not going to preserve us from our weaknesses and failures; we are going to make mistakes. To be made perfect is to persevere through every trial, every wound and every mistake, allowing God to use them all in a glorious way of making us complete, fully mature.
I recently went through a treatment for a pre-cancerous skin condition that turned my forehead into a sight that was not pleasant to see. Even my brother priests looked at me aghast and asked what was wrong with my head. I knew it was bad when during Eucharistic Adoration, one of our dear first graders raised her hand to ask; “Father, can we pray for your head?”
So when I went in for my check-up and the dermatologist came into the room with a broad smile on his face, this was not a look I had become accustomed to over the past few weeks. I asked what he was smiling for, to which he responded; “It’s good to see that you have carried through with the prescribed treatment and it’s doing exactly what it should. All of those red areas would have been needed to be burned off. When your skin heals up even some of your wrinkles will likely go away with the new skin.”
Upon reflection, I think this must be in much the same way that our heavenly Father looks at us as we persevere through the wounds, trials and even sins of our life. Eventually all these imperfections will need to be burned away, but if we persevere through them now, we will become a new creation.
St. James writes:
“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
My brothers and sisters, the potential lies within us at this very moment to become who we have been created to be. Let us persevere in being made complete, fully mature, and lacking in nothing. “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
• Sattler is pastor at the Church of St. Anne in Bismarck.
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