In the Gospel of Matthew, right after the beatitudes and in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ speaks to his disciples about loving your enemies and then gives them the highest expectation: “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
Pluck your eye out if it causes you to sin! If you divorce, you’re committing adultery! Don’t make promises you can’t keep! Don’t be vengeful; turn the other cheek! Love your enemies!
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
How is that even obtainable? How can that even be a standard when humanity, from the beginning of Adam and Eve, has been stained by sin? How can Jesus ask me to be perfect when we are told over and over again that only God is perfect? How can He expect me to be like Him?
You start by recognizing how Christ sees perfection and how the World sees perfection is very different. Society tells us: Be well behaved! Control your emotions! Do better! Work harder! Own more things! Be more than who you really are!
The Jesus Christ in the Gospel tells us an entirely different story and if Jesus Christ was one of the two people (the other being Mary, his mother) that walked this earth perfectly, we need to follow His example.
Christ felt his emotions
In the Cleansing of the Temple (Mt. 21:12 – 17), Christ sees how the people have desecrated the temple and in a fit of righteous anger, he “overturn[s] the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.”
Then, when he discovers that his friend Lazarus has passed, the Gospel of John offers us the shortest verse: “And Jesus wept.” (Jn 11:35) Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, but that didn’t mean that Christ didn’t experience the sorrow that accompanied the news.
Christ left everything and he told his disciples to do the same
Our society tells us to choose a job we are passionate about because our society thinks that your career is the only way to happiness. The Gospel throws this idea away. The only thing that will bring you joy is leaving everything behind. Christ embarked on his journey and wouldn’t go home because he was rejected by the people of Nazareth (Lk. 4:29). He left everything behind and so he called his disciples to do the same.
In a moment that is found in every Gospel (a rare occurrence), Christ begins his ministry by calling his first disciples into relationship and their response is to leave their jobs, their very livelihood, to follow him (Jn 1:35 – 51; Mk. 1:16 – 20; Mt. 4:18 – 22; Lk. 5:1-11). Their jobs, no matter how well they performed and no matter how much they benefited from it monetarily, would not bring them the same joy their discipleship would. Within moments of meeting Christ, they know this and they leave everything too.
Christ went to his Father as he was
When Christ is in the Agony of the Garden, he knows that he is about to enter into the darkest part of his life: his crucifixion. He knows that it must happen, but Jesus, being beautifully human, is begging God the Father, to take away the cup, if He can. Jesus is in so much anguish and “he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk. 22:44)
So often, we get caught up in our mess that we are afraid to approach God. Yet, Jesus trusted God so entirely that he gave entirely of himself in the Garden and then, on the cross. Jesus went to God, simply to be with Him in his darkest hour.
Your Life, Your Choice
The question is: how could we possibly be like Jesus when he was perfect and sinless?
The answer is: we have to stop thinking about what perfection isn’t and start seeing it for what it truly was in Christ. Sin is a part of our human condition, of course, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any fruit in emulating Christ.
Jesus was perfect and sinless, but perfection doesn’t look the way we think it does. In order to truly aim for perfection, we have to break it down to what it really was: emotional, fervent, and self-abandoning.
Only then can we even have a hope of truly being like Christ.