Scripture: Lectionary 230, March 3, 2012. Deuteronomy 26:16-19. Psalm 119: 1-2.4-5.7-8
We learn how to strive for “perfection” according to the Gospel of Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew has these words of Jesus, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NRSV). The scholars and students of the Bible and the New Testament tell us that the Sermon on the Mount is not an impossible ideal. It is a pathway to union with God. Our citation is the goal of the journey we take on that pathway. The Sermon on the Mount acts like a Constitution or a blueprint for the Christian life. Three of the English translations do not change the word “perfect”; the fourth does and it reads, “There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness has no bounds.” (Revised English Bible). The paraphrase is meant to help us to understand the meaning of Jesus within the context of the entire Sermon on the Mount. The steps on the pathway to this perfection or goodness are the Beatitudes given to us at the beginning of chapter five which continues until the verse that speaks of the perfection we should have.
We know from another Gospel that God is love. We also know that God wants us to love one another and even to love our enemies as we learn in the Sermon and its tour de force in the Beatitudes.
Jesus being Jewish knows that Deuteronomy is calling us to holiness and even has a section within it called the Holiness Code. God’s love is seen in the covenant and the precepts, statutes, and commandments that are given to us in this great scroll of the Pentateuch named Deuteronomy ( a second law or teaching).
Psalm 119 are the steps that we can take in our understanding how our Jewish brothers and sisters respect God’s Torah and its precepts and commandments. This Psalm is a summary of what the heart of the Torah is and leads our fellow brothers and sisters to the same living in and out of the love of God. Perfection is possible according to both testaments. We are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind and our neighbor as ourselves. This is found in both testaments. And this living out our relationships in love is a huge part of perfection. When we are doing what God commands us without hesitation and with passion then we are becoming perfect according to what the Lord is saying.
Both Deuteronomy and Psalm 119 help us to understand the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus the Teacher like Moses hands on what he has received from his tradition and his relationship to the Father.
In the pericope or passage from the Gospel today the word love is mentioned three times before we arrive at the end of the passage with the call to a life of perfection in the Biblical sense. Happiness ensues and we are interiorly tranquil when we put our heart into this imperative saying of Jesus, the Lord. Both Moses and Jesus call us to such holiness that is so sublime that we are stupefied. God is love and that is how we can become holy by having a relationship that is totally centered on God.
As our Psalm prayer says, “I will give you thanks with an upright heart, when I have learned your just ordinances. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.” (Psalm 119:7). The opening of the Psalm begins with a Beatitude: “Happy (Blessed) are they who follow the law (Torah) of the Lord.” All humans are created in God’s image and likeness, therefore, we need to identify with the divine within us and thus touch our hearts with the love of God. This is the journey of Lent and it does lead to holiness, righteousness, and perfection. Amen.