Not the Best Way to Get Clean

Not the Best Way to Get Clean


The Sermon on the Mount is, in my opinion, one of the more beautiful of scripture passages.  It shows Jesus’ natural gentleness and is one of the most concise examples of how God values not only what we don’t like, but actively avoid.  Jesus inspires and comforts… except, for one detail:

“Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Mtt 5:48

That phrase has always left me more than a little daunted.  I have to ask:  Really!?  God expects us to be perfect?  Is that what it takes to please God?  Is that what doing God’s will is all about?  If that is the standard, heaven is surely a lonely place.

I learned something that turned this passage around for me: In Hebrew, “perfect” and “compassion” can be used interchangeably depending on the context, which in this case, comes from Jesus’ earlier discussion on love.  Where it says “perfect”, try substituting “compassion” and see what happens.  The message is talking about God’s compassion, God’s love, God’s kindness, mercy, and empathy – God feels our pain as we struggle through our own contradictions.

A “perfect” person is, in as much as is possible, one who aspires to be like God – one who can forgive the sinner yet still condemn the sin, who can include imperfection and still love, who recognizes and accepts their own and other’s humanity, and who can see God in others and so can’t help but love the person as well.

Our human condition is full of contradictions:

  • We desire perfection.  We live in the reality of our failures.
  • We want to be able to put our selves aside so that we can serve others.  We chose to put ourselves first.
  • We hope for peace on earth.  We act on our fears of anyone not like us.
  • We dissect other’s failures.  We cannot see the log in our eye.
  • We gather spiritual credits for our salvation.  We miss the point.

What if… our desire was to be as compassionate as God, rather than as perfect as God?  What if we were as concerned about saving our brother and sister’s soul as we are about our own?

Certainly, perfection is an ideal to strive for – but it says “be”, it doesn’t say “strive to be” or “try to be”, or “let’s see how you do and the Three of Us will score you out of 10”.

Spirituality is not a sport, but sports track statistics. Consider that…

  • Babe Ruth’s batting average was 0.342 – he struck out almost two-thirds of the time.
  • Michael Jordan’s field goal percentage was 0.4969 – he missed half his shots.
  • Jack Nicklaus won more tournaments than any other golfer entering 595 tournaments but he won “only” 73 times – he lost almost 90% of the time.

So where do I get off beating myself up because I made a mistake? Aldous Huxley said, “Chronic remorse… is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”  [from “Brave New World”].

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