THE SERVANT GENERAL
THE WAY FORWARD IN CHRIST
Today’s gospel: Matthew 5:43-48
After giving the very challenging teaching of loving one’s
enemies, Jesus topped it off with an impossible command. “So
be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(Mt 5:48). But only God is perfect. How can we attain to the
perfection of God?
we cannot be perfect as God is perfect, simply because we
are not God. We are imperfect human beings. But we are destined
to attain to that perfection, as children of God, when we
finally live in heaven. “Beloved, we are God’s
children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2). In heaven
we shall see God as He is, and we shall be like Him.
But while on this earth, we are to strive to be like Him.
gives us this very high ideal of perfection because of His
great love for us, and because of our destiny according to
His eternal plan. God does not want to give us a goal that
is less than what He intends for us, even if such highest
of goals cannot as yet be achieved on earth.
is perfection? It is absolute purity, it is holiness unto
the Father. How can we strive for perfection in this life?
we need to be conscious of who we are, the children of God.
We need to know that God created us in His image and likeness,
to be like Him. We do not have to be destroyed by sin. By
the salvation already won by Jesus on the cross, and by the
power of the Holy Spirit, we can avoid sin and wrongdoing.
“No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because
God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he
is begotten by God.” (1 Jn 3:9). Now of course we know
we do sin. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1
Jn 1:8). But we can always turn to Jesus in repentance. “If
we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will
forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”
(1 Jn 1:9). And “if we walk in the light as he is in
the light, then …. the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses
us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7).
we need to know that God commands it. “For I, the Lord,
am your God. You shall make and keep yourselves holy, because
I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean” (Lv
11:44). We must desire to please God our Father, and Jesus
our Savior. God loved us with an eternal love. We are to love
Him in turn. The way we do that is to obey His commands. “If
you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”
we need to live in love. We are to love God with our all,
and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. How are we to
love? We look at the characteristics of love. “Love
is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own
interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over
injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with
the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes
all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7). Wow!
If you can do those, then you are well on your way to perfection.
This is why Paul said, “And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.” (Col 3:14).
we need to persevere. We will fail, but we must strive once
again. We will fall, but we must get up and plod on. It certainly
is not easy to be like Jesus. He is perfect, we are not. But
Jesus promises to be there with us, helping carry our yoke,
guiding us in the way we are to go, giving us the graces we
need. We just need to keep on plugging away. “And let
perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:4).
There is one other aspect of perfection that we need to look
at, and that is mercy. The counterpart saying recorded by
Luke is this: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
(Lk 6:36). God is love. God is mercy. Many Old Testament passages
interchange the meaning of the Hebrew word “hesed”
as love or mercy. Matthew has Jesus saying we must be perfect
after his discourse on love of enemies. In like manner, Luke
has Jesus saying we must be merciful after his discourse on
love of enemies.
so loved us that He was merciful to us. We were all sinners,
lost in darkness, but God sent His very own Son Jesus to win
for us our salvation. That is the extent of His love, His
is mercy? It is kind or forgiving treatment of someone who
could be treated harshly. It is kindness or help given to
those who are in a very bad or desperate situation. It is
compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender
who is subject to one’s power.
telling us to love one another, God also tells us to be merciful
to each other. Thus Jesus taught his disciples how to pray,
where they are to say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive
our debtors” (Mt 6:12). Jesus even connects the forgiveness
we can expect from God with the forgiveness we extend to others.
“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly
Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
(Mt 6:14-15). When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should
forgive a brother who sins against him, suggesting a generous
seven times, Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven
times but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:22). In other
words, without limit!
Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant. The king,
out of mercy, decided to forgive the huge debt of one of his
servants. But that servant would not forgive a much smaller
debt owed to him by another servant. The master then said
to that servant, “You wicked servant! Should you not
have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”
(Mt 18:32a,33). Then the master in anger handed that servant
over to the torturers. Jesus then warns us, “So will
my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives
his brother from his heart.” (Mt 18:35). We sinned against
God Himself, but God forgave us. So too should we be merciful
can see that if we are able to forgive others, especially
when they have done much harm to us, that we are growing in
Finally, we have said that we are not God, and so cannot attain
to the perfection of God. However, the ways of God are mysterious.
“Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory”
(1 Cor 2:7). We cannot completely fathom His ways. Judith
says, “how then can you fathom God, who has made all
these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan?”
(Jdt 8:14b). And so we say, yes we are not God, but ….
do the Church Fathers and the Saints say?
Peter: “His divine power has bestowed on us everything
that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge
of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through
these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great
promises, so that through them you may come to share in
the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:3-4a).
Augustine: “God became man, so that man might become
God.” To St Augustine, the incarnation was about the
deification of man.
Athanasius: “For the Son of God became man so that
we might become God.”
Irenaeus: “For this is why the Word became man, and
the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering
into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship,
might become a son of God.”
Thomas Aquinas: “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting
to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature,
so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
John of the Cross: “If anything pleases God it is
the exaltation of the soul. Since there is no way by which
He can exalt her more than by making her equal to Himself,
He is pleased only with her love. For the property of love
is to make the lover equal to the object loved.”
John Paul II: “Jesus is the new man who calls redeemed
humanity to share in His divine life. The mystery of the
Incarnation lays the foundations for an anthropology which,
reaching beyond its own limitations and contradictions,
moves towards God Himself, indeed towards the goal of divinization.
This occurs through the grafting of the redeemed on to Christ
and their admission into the intimacy of the Trinitarian
life. The Fathers have laid great stress on this soteriological
dimension of the mystery of the Incarnation: it is only
because the Son of God truly became man that man, in him
and through him, can truly become a son of God.”
What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say?
– The Word became flesh to make us “partakers
of the divine nature”
1265 – Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but
also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an
adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of
the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with
him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
1988 – (God) gave himself to us through his Spirit.
By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants
in the divine nature . . . For this reason, those in whom
the Spirit dwells are divinized.
is this mystery all about? It is about our deification by
grace. We have become sons of God in and through Jesus our
Lord. His incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection
and ascension all bring us to this. Even as we celebrate the
Eucharist, the highest form of worship, we see the connection
between the incarnation and deification, when the priest says
the offertory prayer as he mixes the water with the wine.
“By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come
to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to
share in our humanity.” Deification of man is corollary
to the incarnation of God who became man.
important caution. The devil tempted Eve in Eden by saying,
“you will be like gods” (Gen 3:5). Adam and Eve
succumbed to the temptation, disobeyed God, and paradise was
lost. What is the difference between what the devil said about
becoming gods and what the saints are saying about becoming
God? What is the difference between the teaching of the saints
and the teachings of the New Age? The difference is that the
devil wanted to become God, and for humans to become gods,
by their own power or the power of their own nature, while
we become God only by the power and grace of God. It is a
fundamental difference of nature (our human power
to work and to will) versus grace (God’s working in
us through the power that only belongs to Him). We become
by grace what God is by nature.
We end with a final quote. St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “Christian
perfection has but one limit, that of having none.”
So be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
reflection and/or discussion: Consider the great and
wonderful gift and privilege given us by God, to partake of
His divine nature.
For prayer and action: Desire to grow in perfection,
in being perfect as the Father is perfect, and forgiving as
the Father has forgiven you.
The above is taken from my forthcoming new book, “Forty
Days of Challenge in the Christian Life.” The book will
tackle 40 difficult teachings in the Bible and explain what