This might be the most terrifying verse in the Bible. And that is only right. We fall so short of the standard set by God’s perfection. But let’s not lose sight of exactly what that standard is. Who really is this God we are called to be like?
Imagine for a moment that Jesus’ disciples approach him in despair after hearing the sermon on the mount, “Lord, really? Who among us can be perfect?”
Compelled by great compassion Jesus responds by giving his sermon again, making his meaning plain:
“Dear ones, do you not know that I am perfect like my Father? If you have seen me, you have seen the father! And what am I like?
"You have heard that it was said, do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, I will never even get angry with you. I will never insult one of you. I will never say that you are worthless or stupid. I will always seek reconciliation.
“You have heard that it was said, do not commit adultery. But I tell you, I will never even look at one of my dear sisters as an object to use. I would rather gouge out my own eyes then see you as anything other than the precious and particular person you truly are! I would rather cut off my own hands than abuse or harm you!
“It was also said, whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce. But I tell you, that I will never grow tired of you. When I vowed to cherish and protect you I meant every word I said. I am compelled by compassion toward widows, the rejected, the forgotten ones.
“Again, you have heard that it was said, you must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord. But I tell you, I don’t need to take any oath at all: either by heaven, or by the earth, or even by myself, because my ‘yes’ means ‘yes,’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no.’ You can always trust me.
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, I will never resist an evildoer. If anyone slaps me on my right cheek, I will turn the other to him also. If you sue me for my shirt, I will give you my coat as well. If you force me to go one mile with you, I will go with you two. Indeed I will go with you even to the end of the age! I always give to the one who asks, and I never turn away from the one who needs me.
“You have heard it said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, I love my enemies, and I compassionately pray for those who persecute me, because I am my Father’s son and I do as he does. For my Father causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If I only loved those who love me first what good would that be? Is that not the way all other false ‘gods’ act?
“No, beloved, I am perfect just as my (and your) heavenly Father is perfect.”
Oh Lord, I fall so short of this standard! Thankfully, you are the the standard, and you love the least and the smallest and the worst… like me.