The words of Our Lord that jump out at us today from the gospel must certainly be: Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) According to the dictionary, perfect means: entirely without flaw or defect; meeting supreme standards of excellence; satisfying all requirements. Many of us may be struggling to keep just one Lenten resolution, so how can we possibly become perfect?
Well, one reason that perfection can seem so unattainable is that it sounds like an either-or proposition: you’re either perfect or imperfect. But as Scripture scholars point out, the Greek word (telios) translated as “perfect” in Saint Matthew’s Gospel carries a more dynamic meaning. It indicates something you grow into: a process of becoming whole and complete. And so from this perspective, we can imagine Our Lord saying something like: “Keep moving forward. Keep working on becoming the person I created you to be. Don’t settle for anything less than the holiness of wholeness.” It may seem ironic, but it’s true: the more we become the unique person God made us to be, the more we will resemble Him, the perfect One.
So how do we grow into this perfection? Well, self-improvement programs won’t produce the change, and neither will piling on Lenten disciplines and spiritual calisthenics. Rather, it comes as we try our best to use our talents and gifts in a way that glorifies God and lifts up the people around us. It comes as we focus on some of the roadblocks in our life: an unresolved resentment, an unhealthy habit, or a skewed way of thinking about life. It comes as we look for the things that keep us from becoming the person God wants us to be.
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” As we endeavour to make something of Lent this year, may we seek to hear and follow Jesus, and may we have the courage and the humility to change our lives for the better.