Originally posted @ By The Way: listening and exploring faith together February 16, 2011
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Is it really possible to love your enemies? Can we really be so perfect? It’s a tall order, but it’s a challenge that Jesus puts in front of us in Matthew 5:38-48, the big climax of Jesus’ collection of teachings often called The Sermon on the Mount (from the 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel).
In these teachings, Jesus moves from words of blessing to declaring an end to vengeance. Jesus tells us that God’s law (including the command to forgive and love our enemies) is based on God’s unlimited love. Because of God’s love for us, we are not to respond to evil with retaliation, rather love and forgiveness. Jesus goes on to say that living in perfection is to live in the power of God’s abundant love.
Unfortunately many of us see perfection in a less than godly light. We have expectations of perfection demanded of us by our parents, friends, bosses, and if we truly admit it… ourselves. Even Jesus’ words at the end of the passage from Matthew can add pressure: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect, a word that I mutter as a curse more than I give as a compliment to myself, or anyone else for that matter… perfect 😦
I am reminded of Alanis Morissette’s song Perfect from her 1995 album ‘Jagged Little Pill’ is all about the pressure of perfection that can be piled on children by parents. The song has haunting, pressure filled lyrics that opens with: Sometimes is never quite enough. If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love. Don’t forget to win first place, don’t forget to keep that smile on your face…
It goes on with messages for sons: Be a good boy, try a little harder. You’ve got to measure up and make me prouder. How long before you screw it up, how many times do I have to tell you to hurry up. With everything I do for you, the least you can do is keep quiet.
And equally pressure filled words for daughters: Be a good girl, you’ve gotta try a little harder. That simply wasn’t good enough, to make us proud. I’ll live for you, I’ll make you what I never was.
And ends with the bottom line of: We’ll love you just the way you are if you’re perfect!
How can a son or daughter live with that kind of far from perfect pressure…? I think Jesus recognized that there is pressure to be perfect and that as humans we can never measure-up. The law is a gift that isn’t meant to remind that we have to be perfect, but that as people, we can’t be. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it, but admit and ask for forgiveness when we screw up knowing that God loves us in all our perfect and less than perfectness.
There is a current song Perfect sung by P!nk, a singer influenced by Alanis Morrisette by the way, that confesses imperfection and reminds in the refrain that God see’s us as we are, loves us anyway and calls us to live awash in God’s perfect love. The refrain (the clean version here) are words that could be sung by Jesus to remind us of who and whose we are, children of God, made in God’s image…
Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel,
Like you’re less than, less than perfect.
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you’re nothing,
You are perfect to me!
The P!nk Perfect video shows the less than perfect life of a girl growing up and the challenging struggles she faces as she tries to be perfect. It is raw, it is hard to watch, and it reflects the difficulty many experience trying to live-up to expectations of perfection. As I watched it and reflected on it, I recalled Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbors, many of whom struggle with perfection, and how we are called to live in the love of God.
The video, and uncensored version of the song uncensored version of this song will probably never be shown in schools or churches due to its “R” rated material and sensitive subject. But I recommend it because the beautifully crafted video shows a young woman who grows up facing the very real issues of bullying, drugs, self harm and theft in a world that is far from perfect. I also think that P!nk’s song is a reminder that one doesn’t have to live up to any of our worldly expectations of perfection, because to God you are perfect.
No matter what your emotional experience around perfection is, or was… you are made in God’s image. Yes you are flawed, but you are still given life and forgiven your mistakes by God who loves you. God knows every hair on your head, your deepest secrets, and all your imperfections but gave you Jesus to show us what perfect love is, to bring forgiveness, and to remind you that you are accepted with open, loving and welcoming arms by the One who sees you as perfect!