Perfect??NOT Me! : Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest

Today in the Readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time we hear a daunting and possibly puzzling section of the Sermon On The Mount when Jesus tells us to be perfect: Matthew 5:48-“You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. “Oh my”, is my response, “I can’t even approach that!” No amount of trying or good works or good thoughts or hopes can make perfection out of this flawed instrument. If I even stub my toe I cuss up a storm and I am not always charitable in my thoughts of others, or doing as much good as I can, no matter how much I try. This is not false modesty or humility it is just the truth of me as I experience it. I am sure that those who know me well, or have lived with me could also chronicle my faults. Yes, they could also chronicle the goodness that the grace of God has granted me and I am so thankful for that. But perfection, at least according to Webster is quite another thing. “As good as it is possible to be”, “having all the required or desirable elements…” “complete”,” being entirely without fault or defects” as in a perfect diamond. The expression “A diamond in the rough” describes most of us.

Yet our Loving God has made each one of us “perfect” and brand new as we enter this world. In Genesis 1:31 God says of all of God’s creation “It is very good”.

Below is Rev. Olga Lucia Alvarez, ARCWP Bishop of Colombia, South America being blessed with a cross on the forehead by a little girl in one of her communities

My God -daughter Felice and her son Daniel

This is our newest family member, Julian Dennis, son of Zachary and Paige Robinson, son of Ken and Lisa Robinson, son of Robert Jay and Barbara Robinson, Son of Julian C. and Frances Robinson. Julian C., my beloved Uncle, was one of the three Uncles who were fathers to me. I am so happy to see his name carried on!

Maya and Lamar Cummings and Kimora visiting Pastor Judy and bringing joy during the aftermath of Hurricane Ian

Yet, like the first of humankind, our choices sometimes also make us less than perfect. And sometimes too, life is very hard on us and we are pushed and shoved by many circumstances into less than perfect responses-sometimes, downright evil responses. Here in Florida last week, a six year old boy carried a loaded gun to school and shot his teacher point blank. She is struggling for her life. He did not like her, felt angry, and the gun was available and he knew how to use it. How on earth did so much go wrong by 6 years old? What was this child’s life like? We do not know. I pray for this teacher and his frightened school mates, and for this boy and his family. I pray healing will take place all around and that love not rage will rule. I wondered if he was lovingly taken to church or Sunday School? I wonder if he had ever known God’s love or family love. I wondered why a loaded gun was available to him? I believe that God understands the lack of perfection in all of us. And, God forgives. That is a WOW!!! Even on the Cross, Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). And the forgiveness is there even when we do know vaguely or fully what we do. Human beings are usually far from perfect as life goes on. So why then does Jesus ask us to be “perfect”?

Now we remember that “perfect” is an English word and its meanings in English are what I have cited above. We also recall that Jesus was a First Century Jew who spoke Aramaic. So we need to understand the meanings of “perfect” in Aramaic and we need also to look at the context in which Jesus is quoted as saying this in the Gospel (Matthew 5: 38-48). George M. Lamsa in Idioms in the Bible Explained (Harper and Row, 1985:p.51) says that “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 means “All inclusive, or to know all lines of a trade”. Rocco A. Errico in …And There Was Light ( Noohra Foundation, 1998, 102-104) explains that flawlessness and infallibility are not close to the Aramaic term gmeera which Jesus uses when he is translated as saying “Be perfect”. GMEERA means perfect in the sense of complete, thorough, finished, full-grown, mature, accomplished, comprehensive, rounded out and all inclusive. Note one word in Aramaic can have many meanings and context is important.

It resonates with me that Jesus is talking about maturing in the faith-becoming a full grown Christian. To be a mature Christian is to grow from focus on the self-“I am saved” “I am forgiven” “I am loved by Christ, I am loved by God”- to “I love all of God’s children no matter who they are by race, culture, good or not so good choices, nations, languages, sexual orientations, ages, incomes or lack of them or any other factor. I am concerned with the “Other” not myself, and my service and love are for the “Other”. I am doing my best to work for justice and peace on earth. Violence reigns these days as never before, and as a full-grown Christian I hope not to add to it in word or deed. But, yes, I fail at this and need God’s grace to continue to growing in the faith. We do not come full grown into the world or into Christianity. We must work at growing. We must find experiences that help us to grow in the faith. A church, a group of dedicated Christ-followers, family and friends, a place to pray and commune with God, a favorite place in the woods, or by the sea, or on our roof, or walking in the city or countryside, time to read and pray with the Scriptures and to “Have a little talk with Jesus, to tell him all about our troubles-he will hear our beck and cry, and answer bye and bye” according to one old hymn. We have a responsibility to work toward faith maturity, and if we neglect this we may be at varied stages of arrested development. We can not fully love either our neighbors or our enemies, we get stuck on ourselves and our own problems, and we are far from perfect.

And in the day’s Gospel text Jesus also asks us to literally “go the second mile”. If we are asked to go a mile, go another one, if we are asked for a tunic, give a coat, give to those who ask of you…and so on. The mature faith is a second mile faith. We strive to do the most that we can not the least. Recently here in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian we continue to hear about whole families and whole communities that are left with nothing at all. The best stories accompanying this news are the stories of neighbors and strangers reaching out and taking in those who are lost and bereft, and giving all they can to help. Thankfully there are many stories of this sort. But do we need a hurricane or a disaster to make us so attuned to the pain of our fellow human beings? Or can we rely on the love of God within us to truly do the right thing? Can we pray to go the second and yes, the third mile?

Errico notes that “What Jesus desired of his disciples was a thorough comprehension of the task that was before them. Because they were to face much opposition and many clever people, they needed to be wise, alert, gentle, unaffected, and courageous. These disciples were to be…all-inclusive…. Insiders and outsiders was not to be part of their understanding.” Errico reminds us that before Jesus told his disciples to be perfect, he had taught them ” Love your enemies,bless anyone who curses you, do good to anyone who hates you,and pray for those who…persecute you…so you may be children of your Father…who pours down his rain upon the just and unjust. This is the perfection to which Jesus referred. And, just as God does not discriminate but is ‘all-inclusive’ so his children were to show the same nonexclusive nature as their heavenly Father” (p. 103). He continues: “Perfection is a loving presence. It is the loving presence that is all-inclusive….This is God in action.” we are to be like our loving God who blesses “the good and the bad, the just and unjust”. This is the PERFECTION that God wants of us.

So, my friends, let us strive to be perfect in loving one another-NO MATTER WHAT!

Be blessed,

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP

The Good Shepherd Community in Fort Myers, Florida


2 responses to “Perfect??NOT Me! : Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest”

  1. docrondeau says :

    As Mark Twain said, “ Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. “.
    Loved the blog!

  2. Stella Odie-Ali says :

    Amen 🙏🏽

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: