Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, February 19, 2017
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
Did you ever have anyone ask more of you than you thought you were able to give? Did you ever have anyone ask you to do what you thought impossible? I reflect on my own experiences. In the seminary, of course, we took the classes assigned to us. But occasionally we had to attend the university, where classes were scheduled at will.
I recall the times when a professor on the first day of class set down very demanding rules and requirements. Some students would then immediately go the registrar to change the class, thinking that they could not possibly meet up to the professor’s expectations or they simply did not want to try. I cannot help but think that some listening to our Lord would react the same way. Consider what our Lord says in the Gospel today.
Our Lord cites the law of talion, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Matthew 5:38). In the ancient world this form of reciprocal justice was considered an improvement over disproportionate retribution. But our Lord requires more. When struck, offer the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). If someone wants to sue you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well (Matthew 5:40). Always give more, even when offended. I am sure that his listeners, as we might also, found this asking too much.
Then, our Lord cites the commandment to love our neighbor and hate our enemy (Matthew 5:43). But our Lord again asks more of us. We should love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44). I can easily see some in the crowd turning around and walking away, much like those students who did not want to be challenged.
This is what the Christian life is all about—being challenged. I remember the old adage: “To have lived is to have changed and to have lived well is to have changed much.” The wisdom of that advice lies at the heart of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus asks more of us.
To make this point Jesus concludes with these overwhelming words: “[B]e perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Really? Is it really possible?
It is in the striving that we discover whether or not anything is possible. Only the mediocre remain stuck in the predictable. I must confess I never left any of my classes. And the most demanding professors were always my best teachers. They taught me more, and I learned more. I know I was not the “perfect” student but trying to do better is very important. Jesus, the “perfect” teacher, asks more of us. Are we willing to respond? That is the question I think we need to ask ourselves.
The Christian is called to perfection not mediocrity, to exceed his expectations and embrace the higher call of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Glen John Provost