In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks six antithetical statements beginning with, “You’ve heard it said…,” followed by, “But I say to you….”
If “you’ve heard ‘it’ said,” you’ve heard a law; but if you’ve heard “I say to you,” you’ve encountered a life.
Six times, like the six days of creation, Jesus recounts a law, and each time the requirement seems to only get harder.
And then, in the position of the seventh (according to the English Standard Version), he says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfect? What is God thinking?
How do you say the perfect prayer, preach the perfect sermon, or perfectly love the Lord your God …especially when threatened with hell?
Someone once asked the young Martin Luther, “Do you love God?”
“Love God?” he responded. “Sometimes I hate him.”
Luther knew that “Perfect Love” was the law, and it made him hate God.
His piety was thoroughly neurotic. Many think he was insane, …but perhaps he was most sane.
As the sixth antithetical statement, Jesus says, “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.”
Jesus just told a ragtag group of gentiles and Jews, none of whom had prayed the “sinner’s prayer” or put their “faith in Jesus for salvation,” that their Father was in Heaven.
Soon he’ll say, “Pray ‘our Father.’”
He’s been telling them that their Dad is his Dad, and they ought to act like their Dad.
And now he tells them what their Dad is like.
“He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
I think he’s saying, “I know Dad made a conditional covenant with some of you. But did you notice that the rain falls in the Decapolis, just as it does in Judea?”
When my children were little, I sometimes withheld small blessings and sometimes made them conditional. If you’re a parent, you understand why.
I would sometimes withhold small blessings, so they would come to know I am the blessing.
I would sometimes make those blessings conditional, so they would come to know my unconditional love.
I wanted them to know that I didn’t have to give them anything, so they would come to know that I choose to give them everything, and most of all me.
If you love your children, you will discipline your children in the hope that they will come to know that love is free.
You cannot love for a reward; Love is the reward.
“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” asks Jesus. “…You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So how is he perfect? He perfectly loves his enemies!
That means he loves those who hate him; he loves without conditions; no one determines his love.
That means you cannot make him love you any more or any less than he already does.
That means he loves in perfect freedom.
That means that when the door is shut on those that weep and gnash their teeth in outer darkness, that door has been shut in love.
That means that when the fire falls on Sodom, God is not torturing his enemies; he is loving his children.
That means that when God issues judgment on Jericho, the judgment is love.
When my children refused to love, I would sometimes make them sit in their room alone, where they’d weep and gnash their teeth.
At the right time, I’d go sit next to them and make them look at me and talk to me—and I know my presence burned their little egos like fire.
They thought it meant that I didn’t love them; now they know that it meant I wouldn’t forsake them—I was setting them free to love and be loved.
The truth is that none of us have even been born until we learn to die to ourselves.
People ask, “How could God take a life?”
Doesn’t he take every “life,” for none of us have truly been born… except Jesus, “firstborn from the dead” and “firstborn of all creation”?
Our Father is not part love and part something else, called Justice.
Our Father is 100% Love, 100% Just, 100% Free. He is 100% Mercy.
And if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen our Father.
When we see who our Father is, we will become who we truly are.
My children imitated me, not because “it” was a law, but because I was their life.
That longing to imitate the one you love is called Faith.
My children lived by faith.
If you don’t have faith that your Father is infinite Love, you will begin to suffer an infinite neurosis, until you collapse at the feet of his revelation of infinite Mercy on a tree in a garden.
Martin Luther suffered an infinite neurosis, until he had a revelation, “The just (the righteous) shall live by faith.” “This it is,” writes Luther, “to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart.”
Jesus, “from the bosom of the Father,” is the heart of God hanging on a tree in a garden.
I find it interesting that he didn’t actually say, “You therefore must be perfect…” Literally translated he said, “You therefore will be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”
Translators turn future indicative verbs into imperative verbs when they don’t have faith that those verbs indicate a statement of fact; they turn prophecies into commandments.
“You therefore will be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” If you hear that as a command, it will drive you insane and reduce you to nothing. And that may be very good for a time, for once the law has crucified your ego, you may at last be able to hear the promise: “Little brother, little sister, you will be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
“You will be.” For on the sixth day of the week, the sixth day of creation, after that horrid sixth hour on a tree in a garden, the Word of God in flesh, by whom and through whom all things are made—he lifted his head, cried, “It is perfected,” and delivered up his Spirit.
This is the Spirit that cries, “Abba Father, Daddy Father,” in you; it is perfection in you.
“Don’t quit,” says Jesus. “You will be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, for that is why I came and will not ‘return void.’ I am the Word of God who makes you in the image and likeness of God, our Father.”
My children used to “play” church—prayers, songs, sermon, the whole bit.
To experts in such matters, those church services were the worst ever conducted.
But to me, they were perfect—because I’m their Dad. And that was Faith.
It was a little faith in me, which was also a little faith in God, which like a seed, will grow into a kingdom where “everything is good” and “it is finished.”