In the Gospel from this Sunday we are faced with a seemingly impossible command from Jesus, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” On the surface this command seems absolutely unattainable, we are human beings after all with flaws and sins, so how are we supposed to achieve perfection? In order to get what Jesus is actually saying we have to understand that He is not using the word perfection in the same way that we use the word. The greek word used here is τέλειος, which is derived from the greek word τέλος, meaning end or goal. The τέλος of a thing is that which it is made for, its purpose. For example, the τέλος of a winter sleigh is to be ridden over snow pulled by a horse. So a perfect sleigh, using the word τέλειος, is a sleigh that is able to be ridden on snow well, regardless of whether the sleigh itself has physical flaws. It may have dents and scratches on it, but if the sleigh rides well, it is perfect; it is fully achieving its purpose of existence. So when Jesus is calling each and every one of us to perfection, He is calling us not to somehow correct all of our flaws to be perfect (even though this is a continual process in the moral life), He calls us to be the men and women He created us to be, to attain the goal of who we were made to be: saints.
A transitional deacon friend of mine likes to say, “The saint God calls you to be is the man or woman God created you to be.” This is so true and yet it is so difficult to live out. As human beings we continuously fall to the temptation to compare ourselves to others. We see perceived flaws in ourselves and look at others and think we should be like them. We say to ourselves, “If only I was more like [insert name here], I would be perfect.” We see ourselves as imperfect and place an impossible expectation on ourselves: we must change who we are in order to be somehow considered good and perfect. This is not only futile, but also disrespectful of the man or woman God created us to be. God our Father created each and every one of us unique with our own gifts and talents, and He wants us to be ourselves, just as He made us. The gifts and talents you have are going to be different from those around you, and that is incredibly beautiful, not something that needs to be “fixed.”
So the next time you are tempted to think less of yourself because you think you are imperfect because you see in yourself what you perceive as flaws, remember that God the Father created you wholly unique and that Jesus does indeed call us to perfection, He calls us to be the specific men and women He created us to be. As St. Francis de Sales once said, “Be who you are and be that well.”