Ministerial Musings: "Be Perfect?"
Some of our sayings make no sense. They seem to contradict one another. “Practice makes perfect.” And yet, we are also told that “Nobody is perfect.” That can lead one to question, “Then why practice?”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the multitudes, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly [Parent] is perfect” (5:48). We are to be perfect — like God? Right!
Actually, Matthew is using the Hebrew word tāmîn, which literally means “wholeness.” So, to be perfect in the eyes of God does not mean to be “without a flaw,” but rather to be whole, to be complete.
But what does that mean exactly?
To be whole is to strive for God’s will. We are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned, and welcome the outcast. But being whole is more than about serving God in the service of others, though. Being whole means, among other things, striving for a full God-consciousness and walking the road of penitence.
Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Does that mean that we are to be on our knees praying to God constantly? Prayer goes beyond that. Maybe it means to strive to keep God on the fore of our mind at all times: when we are driving to work, when we are in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, when we are walking the aisles of the supermarket. Can we not be thinking of God’s presence in our lives at those times? Is that not a type of living prayer?
Being whole also means walking the road of repentance. Jesus said the greatest command is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Matthew 22:34-40). He also said that a second command, to love one’s neighbor (which is everyone) as one’s self, is equal to loving God wholeheartedly.
How often do we succeed at either? I know that I fail miserably at both all too often. That is what sin is: not loving God or our neighbors with all our heart. Maybe to be whole means to strive to embody such love and, when we fail to do so, to ask God for forgiveness. Forgiveness — that is something we do not really want to do either. “Me? Apologize?”
To be whole in God, however, means to lead a holistic life: one rooted in worship, Scripture, prayer, service, and repentance. That may not make us perfect, as people commonly read in Matthew, but it does mean perfect in the sense that we live in such a way that we invite the Spirit of the Living God to abide in us fully.
That, my friends, is not only a blessing; it is also to live life to the fullest.
John Tamilio III is the Religion Columnist for The Lakewood Observer. A nationally published author and musician, JT3 is also the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood. He lives in Lakewood with his wife, Susan, and their three children.