Perfect Understanding

In my lectio this morning I read “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:48

“Perfect,” in my modernist worldview, means “without flaws.” But it turns out (thanks to Fr. Ron Rohlheiser) the word “perfect” is a translation of the Hebrew word “tamam” which means mature, appropriate, compassionate. The parallel in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (6:36) has “merciful” — “Be merciful as your Father also is merciful.”

I prefer to read this with the Hebrew worldview because Jesus was a Hebrew (duh.) and when I read scripture with my modernist mindset I end up turning what I read into a merit badge to be earned with my ego instead of letting it humble me appropriately.

Whatever word you think of, the challenging words in that verse are “as your Father is.” In other words, God’s standards, not mine. Prodigious, effusive, unabashed mercy and compassion. To people who do not deserve it. God’s kind of mercy, not man’s.

This offends the merit-badge mentality of my modernist world view. I’ve worked in the vineyard for most of my adult life, why would lollygaggers who work just the last hour, in the cool of the late day, get paid as much as I did? If I am being honest with myself, I am often jealous because my Master is generous.

“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” No matter what worldview I wear, I require help to meet the standard. But the modernist worldview can be very misleading here. This is about relationship, not acheivement. Or maybe the two are inseparable.

I am finding that in my faith life, in prayer, heck, in life in general, I need to be aware of what worldview I am wearing. I was raised with a modernist worldview. In my twenties I discovered that there was something worthwhile beyond the strict modernist worldview. In my thirties, I emigrated to the more mystical Judeo-Christian worldview but maintain a dual citizenship. In fact, it’s not an either-or. The Judeo-Christian worldview is the grandfather of many of the great ideas that gave birth to the modernist age.

But it is a source of great folly for me to approach the teachings of Jesus Christ with a strict moderninst worldview. I can’t earn heaven like a merit badge, and I can’t be “perfect” without being merciful. Or without a lot of Help.

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