Wednesday, March 17, 2010

O Perfect Me

"Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus serves up a tall order in the Sermon on the Mount. I have preached this verse in clever and insightful ways. I have told my congregation that I knew what it really meant. I had read this in the original Greek. I went to seminary. I am the resident expert. That is why you hired me. Don't trust the words. And pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

The Greek word is teleios. It means complete, mature, the end result. I compared it to ripe fruit. We are not told to be perfect; we are obviously not supposed to be perfectionists. How perfectly ridiculous! That is a formula for failure, not to mention low self-esteem. We are to be mature. It sounded good. More importantly, it got us off the hook.

But in the back of my mind I always knew that perfect meant perfect, no matter how perfectly I tweaked the Greek. Our heavenly Father is not a ripe banana. He is perfect. We are not told to be sweet and tasty. We are told to be perfect as he is perfect.

After all, he just finished telling us to resist not evil, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and love our enemies. These are tall orders that sound impossible and impractical. But Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King said they tried it, and it worked. But look how they died.

Besides, I know the Greek. I am an expert in explaining difficult passages. Christ may have turned water into wine, but I can turn the extraordinary into the ordinary! Don't worry, brothers and sisters. I will figure it out so we can safely go back to our ordinary lives.

That is the problem with most preaching I have done and I have heard. We preachers think we can figure out what it means, as long as we have the right commentaries and sufficient time to study. That is why we miss its meaning. We play with words and do not see beyond the words.

Like the time that Jesus said, "You are gods!" (John 10:34) Wow, that's a tough one. It could open the door for all kinds of heresies. We better shut up that verse tight.  It took me a long time and much study of the Greek, but I explained that away too. In this case I had to go back to the Hebrew also, because Jesus is quoting Psalm 82 in the Old Testament. So I had to work doubly hard, but I finally found a loophole. It doesn't mean what it says! In fact it means the opposite! Whew! That was close.

I have an eight hundred page hardcover in my personal library entitled "Hard Sayings of the Bible" to help me find loopholes in any other "hard sayings" that I might run across in the future. I am safe. I do not need to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect. I no longer have to be godly. Now I can relax ... imperfectly.

Artwork is Imperfection by Rob Douglas, 2008 Painting acrylic and pigment

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