“Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” Say what? That’s what Jesus tells his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. It may help to know that this isn’t really a very good translation of the original Greek text. It sounds like Jesus is calling us to live perfect little lives and never make any mistakes, but that’s not his intent at all. The word perfect comes from the Greek word for goal, end or purpose. And that’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: accomplishing your God-given purpose in life. In The Message translation of the Bible, Eugene Peterson does a better job of translating the Greek. He renders it in English as, “You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.”
Here’s that verse in its context in Peterson’s translation:
38-42"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
43-47"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."
Jesus isn’t telling us, “Don’t ever make any mistakes or do anything wrong.” In fact, if you live like that – trying to be perfect – you will end up doing exactly what Jesus is NOT asking of us here. Because what he wants of us is extravagant, over-the-top love that doesn’t hold back. You can’t love like that if you’re afraid of making a mistake.
Annie Dillard has written that “we catch grace like a man filling a coffee cup under a waterfall.” I refer to this image often because it’s the best one I can think of to describe what the Jesus Way of life looks like. Imagine holding a cup under a waterfall. The waterfall is the love of God and it keeps coming and coming and coming. It’s an extravagant, over-the-top love that you couldn’t hold back if you tried. And that love fills us to overflowing. It fills us and it spills out all over the place and then it fills us again and again. That’s the way it works when we open ourselves to receive the love God has for us. And when we live as the people God created us to be, as God’s beloved, God’s love pours into us and spills out of us onto others. We can’t help it. That’s who God is and that’s who we are.
But it seems that we have trouble living like an open cup under a waterfall. All too often we’re more like jars. We take in a little bit of God’s love and we seal it up and carry it around like it’s for us and us alone. That’s not who God has called us to be.
So, what is it in your life that keeps you from being the person God has called you to be? What keeps you from loving extravagantly, over the top, in a way that doesn’t hold back?
As a step toward living more as the person God has called you to be, I want to challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and love extravagantly. Think of a way that you would typically hold back, and bust loose. Just once.
• You might bake some cookies, take them to your neighbor’s house, ring the doorbell and say, “Hi, I’m Nancy. I’m embarrassed that I’ve lived next door to you for two years and we’ve never spoken. So, today I decided to do something about it. These cookies are for you…”
• How about sending a card to a friend you’ve been estranged from, just to let them know you’ve been thinking about them and hope they’re doing well?
• You might say the words, I love you to someone you love but have never told.
• Instead of flipping that guy the bird when he cuts you off in traffic, why not say a prayer for him? (God knows he needs it!)
• Or you might just say hello to a stranger on the street, if that’s not the sort of thing you would normally do.
Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and live as the beloved child God created you to be. Stop carrying the love of God around in a jar and let it flow into your cup and over the top onto others. Don’t hold back. And then, after you’ve done it once, you might challenge yourself to find a new way to express over-the-top love every day.
Each time you do this, you’ll be one step closer toward living out your God-given identity by living graciously and generously toward others, the way God lives toward you.