Gospel for February 20, 2011 — Perfection

Christ on the Cross cropped. Crop of old Mass ...
Image via Wikipedia

The Gospel for February 20, 2011 is Matthew 5:38-48 which follows on the heals of the previous Sunday’s Gospel.  Jesus continues expanding the Mosaic law by challenging people to live to a higher standard.  He says we need to “turn the other cheek” when people hurt us and love our enemies.  Jesus exemplifies this high standard in The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, His Crucifixion, when he asks God to forgive the people who put Him to death.

Jesus’ extensions to the law were tall orders considering the fact that He preached to people who were under Roman occupation and had strict barriers between social groups (Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, etc.).  It was very easy for people at that time to see “the others” as their enemy and seek any retribution when they were harmed.  Jesus asking people to love their enemies must have been a very radical idea and probably was not very well received.  Even today that idea is often preached, but rarely lived.  But Jesus points out that God loves everyone, whether they are Jew or Gentile, and He calls us to do the same.  And if loving your enemy is not difficult enough, Jesus raises the bar even further.  In what almost seems comical, Jesus tells us to “just be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Piece of cake right?

There is no better example of Jesus loving those who hated Him and acting perfectly then when He calls on God to forgive the people who crucified Him for “they know not what they do.”  But the problem many of us have when we read this passage is that we know that Jesus is already perfect.  Many of us may hear Jesus’ teaching of love and forgiveness and probably think, “it’s easy for Him to act perfectly, He’s God!”  So how can we relate to the infinite love and forgivness Jesus showed at His crucifixion?  How do we even begin to live perfectly?

Perfection starts with prayer.  We are aided in our quest for perfection with tools like the Bible, the rosary, priests, nuns, and the entire magistrate of the Catholic Church.  Prayer helps us see Jesus as the example of living perfectly that we try to imitate.  The word imitate is important since we can never be perfect as Jesus is perfect.  We will fall into sin from time to time.  We will not always love our enemies.  We will have grudges and hatred towards one another at times.  But just because we do fall does not give us an excuse never to try at all.  We pray the rosary for guidance, we meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries for strength, and we absorb the readings in the Bible all in trying to understand that perfection that God asks of us.  When we fail to live as Jesus desires, we can wipe the slate clean through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and try again.  And when we think we’ve done just about all we can do, thinking of Jesus nailed on the cross and forgiving the people should motivate us that we can try just a little harder.  And even when we do meet some of our moral limitations as human beings, we are at least closer to that perfection than if we had never tried at all.  But the key to living perfectly is that we have to actively try to live perfectly.  We cannot do it by accident.

Spirituality is a lot like athletics.  Coaches ask for perfection from their players.  Baseball coaches want every player to get a hit and never strike out.  In football, no coach wants to see a dropped pass or his quarterback sacked.  But athletes almost never play a perfect game.  But they give a 100% effort trying the best they can.  Just because they know they won’t play perfectly does not mean they do not try at all.  And so, Jesus calls us to be spiritual athletes.  Like a coach, He wants to see us giving a 100% effort in living according to His Will and building a loving relationship with Him.  It’s time to pick up that rosary or that Bible and give it your all.  It’s game time!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,