WHAT DOES “BE PERFECT” MEAN?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You will be perfect, therefore (Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι), as your heavenly Father is perfect (τέλειος).” (Mt 5: 43-48)
The final verse of the above-quoted passage can be confusing, – first of all, because it is often translated as a command, in the imperative (i.e., “Be perfect”), even though in the Greek it is actually not in the imperative but in the future indicative (i.e., “You will be perfect”); and second of all because the modern-day English word “perfect,” which we understand to mean “faultless,” is not an exact translation of the Greek word “τέλειος,” (stemming from “τέλος,” meaning “the end proposed,” or “completion,” or “fulfillment”), which would more accurately translated as “according to your proposed end” (admittedly not an elegant translation), or, more simply put, – “complete” or “fulfilled.”
God will “complete” us, is the meaning of this verse. We are promised here that we “will” be “made complete” in God, Who is the “complete” Treasury of Good, as we follow the “end” or “purpose” God has in mind for each of us, in the life-giving call of His Son, Who offers us new and ever-more-intimate communion with Him, in His ground-breaking Incarnation. The Son of God invites us, and makes possible for us, to “raise the bar” of our capacity for Good, for self-offering and love for one another, through and by Himself and His own Self-offering, even unto death on the Cross. He raises us from the “purposelessness” (and meaninglessness) of our merely-human being outside of God, in which we are broken and fragmented, tossed to and fro by merely-human ambitions and opinions, and returns us to “wholeness” and “completion” on the Christ-focused, salvific Way of our cross-carrying journey.
Does Christ’s promise, that we will be “made complete” in God, become null and void, because we don’t make this journey “faultlessly,” without ever making mistakes or “missing the mark” (i.e., “sinning”) along the Way? No. That’s why He promises us that we “will,” in the future He foresees, in His time, be “made complete,” following the “purpose” or “end” to which He calls us, which is perfect Oneness with God. So let me not be discouraged today, by my fallings-short of Christ’s call to love as God does. Let me rather re-focus, once again, on God’s “complete” and unconditional love for all of us, by re-connecting with Him in some heartfelt prayer, because He can and will complete me.