What does it mean to be perfect? (Matt 5:38-48) A perfect shark would be good at chasing and killing things. A perfect washing-machine would be good at washing clothes. So a perfect human must surely be someone who is good at being… well what? Yes, that is the question. What does it mean to be human? You might think this is obvious, but it isn’t really, because people can think of themselves in many different ways. If I think I’m a loser, or let other people treat me as a loser, then I’ll be a loser. If I think humans are merely animals, then I’ll behave like an animal. If I think I’m better than anyone else, then I will treat everyone else like dirt, and so on.
This is the point Jesus makes again and again. Always he calls us to a higher and higher view of ourselves, and the Church continues that teaching because it’s so crucial to the whole task we have of being human. We see this in our 2nd Reading from St Paul (1 Cor 3:16-23) this morning. The Christians in Corinth are pushing themselves forward and showing off just as they did when they were pagans, so Paul says “Didn’t you realize that you were God’s temple?”
St Peter, in another crucial passage, reminds Christians that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Peter 2:9), and it’s this that we echo at the anointing just after a baby is baptized. The Priest or Deacon says to the baby, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body.” In a way it’s a pity, isn’t it, that this is spoken to us as babies when we can’t remember what was said. That’s why we need to renew our awareness of what Baptism made us every time we watch one, and every time we renew our vows at Easter, and in a way every time we take the Holy Water as we enter or leave a Church. Perhaps we should remember to say not “Please God make me holy” but “Please God remind me that I am holy! I am one of your holy people. Thank you.”
Good parents know this don’t they? Yes, they have to be strict with their children, to tell them off when they do wrong or are in danger, but they also need to balance this with a strong affirmation of all the good things their child does. Teachers are taught the same. If they concentrate on the things that are going wrong in their class, then things will get worse. If they concentrate on the good things that are happening, then things get better.
I am sure you all know this. But how we think of ourselves is so crucial that we need to practice our awareness of this in as many ways as we can. Look at any self-help book, consult any Counsellor or Psychologist and they will all tell you the same, that this is at the heart of how we become happy fulfilled people. The danger, of course, is that because most of these things are not Christian, they easily turn into a looking further into ourselves. And if you haven’t got a very high estimation of yourself in the first place, this can easily become an agony of despair, rather than a process of growth.
We Christians are always meant to look beyond our own humanity, to the power that created us and is with us to help us on this path. We believe that we are made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1) Now that doesn’t mean that we look like God or are like God on the outside, because God is not like us, but it does mean that we are like God on the inside. It’s why Jesus says “Be perfect ….. as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So it’s only as our vision of God expands that our vision of our own humanity will expand with it. In England we have a stupid saying “The sun shines on the righteous”, which of course it doesn’t. But do you know that many people think this is from the Bible? But as we saw today, it isn’t! What the Bible actually says is that God “causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good”. Here God’s love is overflowing. We tend to think that God should be good to those who are good and punish those who are bad, but actually God is not like that at all. That is why Jesus does not call us to be good, but to be like God, to allow our love to be beyond reason just as his is.
St Paul puts it a different way. He told us today that anyone who thinks himself as wise must learn to be a fool. But if you look back in this letter you will see that he has already set that within a contemplation of what God is like, when he writes that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”.(1 Cor 1:25) So true fools are like God. They have a happy go lucky attitude to life. They do not calculate whether what they do will help them or not, or as Jesus says “If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit?” Remember we are not called to be like God, but to remember that we are already like God, and in that knowledge and faith to live out our lives for him and for his world.