‘You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Mt 5:48) Is it a statement which is ‘outside’ our banal human life? Or, on the contrary, this saying reveals God as the closest to us? I believe, it could be said only by the God who is Emmanuel. It could be said only by a God, who in Jesus, is our brother, and in the Holy Spirit, is our sister. The closest one.
In order to understand, and most importantly to accept this closeness, we can have a look at the films which come ‘close to us’ every day. My feelings are ambiguous about them. Up until recently I was really struggling with their ‘iconoclasm’. One might call it decadence, even manipulation. There is always something disturbing in the level of violence, and the exaggerated human drama in these soaps (E.g., East Enders, Fleabag, or the Netflix series,
The Stranger). As Christians, we can feel a kind of aversion against their ‘iconoclasm’. Everything emerges in the end twisted, and incurably complex. We are entertained by our own sins and failures. Good old ‘virtues’ are falling apart, broken families, adultery are the new standards of the human condition. Christians feel a remorse, even a kind of anger, and could see the media of not simply promoting, but consolidating the new status quo.
However, it is at this point where Jesus’ demand for perfection is prompting us to see things differently. This command removes all fears from us. There is a warm embrace of love in it: ‘be perfect’ also means ‘I am wi th you’. This commandment is also saying, ‘see things with me’. ‘See yourself not from the outside but from within!’
Owing to this gift ‘to be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect’, we can see these films as a call for conversion, and compassion. They hold us a mirror: yes, human situations are very complex. Perhaps, their most important message for us is that we Christians are not outside these stories. (And if it is true, there should be always mitigating circumstances.) We are complicit in these situations: our sins, our desires, our failures are not different but are the same. The only difference is that we are aware of this call. In all the midst of it, which is only surfacing in our films, ‘you must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
All of us were shattered today when the news broke that Jan Vanier, the founder of the L’arche community which does a wonderful work with people with disability, committed sexual assault on 6 women. An outstanding icon is falling, now, and now everything feels like in those films. One’s faith could fall apart because of scandals like this. And all this is very sad, and tragic, indeed. Yet, it is that very sentence about perfection, with all the underlying meanings which we touched upon at the beginning, which rescues our faith unharmed. Even strengthened. ‘You must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect!’ See in all these situations God’s rescuing mercy and compassion with the human condition. Our perfect God, when he judges us, is also perfect in searching for all the mitigating circumstances, why we are so wounded and underachieving.
And something wonderful emerges, always, if we cling to this very source of hope, faith, and love: ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!’ Let us think about our call, what is involved in this demand. What can we do to re-valuate and live all the requirements of the law of Love. T.S. Eliot’s poem is the perfect illustration of how timing Jesus’ command is, and what it means in practice. (See Choruses from ‘The Rock’, 1934)
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..