Independence Day reflection, 4 of 4

LOVE

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies…Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[1]

Jesus points to the heart of what Israel’s law and prophecies teach about love. There is to be no boundary between us and the beneficiaries of our love. Who are they? Everyone. And there is a barrier between us and the targets of our vengeance. Who are they? No one.

This would strike me as abstract idealistic nonsense, if I didn’t remember that when Jesus spoke these words he had enemies in mind; the oppressive Roman Empire and the religious rulers who, considering him a threat, wanted to kill him. Thus, Jesus, acknowledging the concrete socio-political particularity of his day, by these words, advocated no naïve do-goodism.

Taking Jesus at his word, even, especially when I am wronged, I am called to render unconditional benevolence to everyone, while restraining my desire to avenge myself and refraining from my tendency to comfort myself by calling my vengeance justice.

Does this mean I never voice an objection? No. Does this mean I never advocate war? No. It does mean that I seek perfection. Not in the Greek philosophical sense of absolute moral goodness or rectitude untainted by involvement in the material world. That’s impossible. But rather, in light of the Hebrew word, tamim, meaning wholeness or completeness, striving for perfection points to a larger context, a greater concern than my individual interest. To search for perfection is to serve the purposes, to embrace, embody in thought and action the best interests of the whole creation, all of humankind.

Is this perfection difficult to discern? Yes! Even when discerned, is it hard to do? Doubtless. Yet nothing is simple or easy when grappling with the ambiguities and relativities of life in this world. Nevertheless, this, I believe, is the call for any one – whether individual, family, community, yea even nation. This is the meaning of independence from (perhaps always) our greatest overlord, our selfish self-interest, be it personal, familial, communal, or national.

 

Footnote:

[1] Matthew 5.43-44a, 48 (my emphasis)

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4 thoughts on “Independence Day reflection, 4 of 4

  1. Paul,

    I have loved walking with you today, considering ideals that, it is to be hoped, we can one day agree form the bedrock of the experiment that was/is embarked upon 240 years ago and every day since then. I particularly appreciate this last of your four posts: distinguishing vain striving for an absolute moral goodness from a resolute dedication to movement toward wholeness, integrity, completeness.

    Your words brought G.K. Chesterton to mind: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” It’s so clear to me that there are among us numbers of remarkable people, like you and Pontheolla, who are fervently trying it.

    Happy Fourth of July!

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, my dear sister, you are more than kind. Yes, amen, Pontheolla and I strive to embody the gospel of Jesus we heartily embrace. Knowing we fail, we trust in God’s unconditional love and, through that, forgiveness. Also in this, my gospel-attempting-living to a large step forward when I began to understand that perfection was less a noun, thus some state of existence to be achieved (if possible!), but rather a verb, thus the daily act, art of growing into wholeness/completeness. (And I agree with Chesterton!)

      Much love to you, Karen, and Ted and Emilia! A blessed 4th of July to you, each and all!

      Like

  2. I’m seeing perfection in a new light now…. I’ve always thought of perfection and perfectionists as individuals, not as people collectively striving for goals as a group so that we can all be and do better! Thank you for the series!! Thought-provoking indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, I got a new understanding of perfection, especially in this biblical sense, when I saw it less as a noun, thus as a state of being for and toward which to strive and more as a verb, hence the daily act and art of perfecting or moving toward wholeness, journeying toward completeness

      Liked by 1 person

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