If you're like me, when you read or heard the last verse in today's Gospel lesson, you may have felt intimidated. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Perfect? I'm not that!
Is Jesus just toying with us the way a cat plays with a mouse it's going to kill?
The word translated as "perfect" from the original Greek of the New Testament is "teleios." It means things like true, sincere, truthful, or loyal. It doesn't have the meaning of flawless moral perfection or any other kind of flawless perfection, for that matter.
During the 3rd. and 2nd. centuries BC, Jewish scholars living in Alexandria produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. (This is often referred to by the Roman numerals, LXX.) Jesus Himself was no doubt knowledgeable of this translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, as were the writers of the New Testament. This is important because the use of the word, teleios gives us insight into how the word is meant when used in the New Testament, including in Matthew 5:48.
For example, the Septuagint version of Genesis 6:9 tells us the Noah was true or loyal to God, unlike the rest of his generation. In the Septuagint's rendering of Job 1:1, God boasts of Jobs sincere loyalty to Him. And in Deuteronomy 18:13, part of Moses' sermon to the people of Israel as they're about to enter the promised land, Moses encourages the people, as the NRSV well translates it, to "remain completely loyal to the Lord your God."
Only Jesus has led a perfect, sinless life, of course. It's only through Him that our sins can be forgiven. In essence, Jesus gives His perfection to those who turn from sin (repent) and believe in Him, covering our sins with His perfect sacrificial life and death. In response to this incredible gift, believers in Jesus are called to be true to Him. This entails living in a lifestyle of daily repentance and renewal: a life of turning honestly to God each day, owning our faults, and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the help of God in facing off temptations in the future.
Jesus makes a tremendous promise to those who remain true to Him: "The one who endures [in believing in Him] to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Teleios loyalty to Jesus is nothing other than faith in Jesus.
Breathe easy. Jesus isn't playing with you. Be sincerely loyal to Jesus Christ and, despite your faults, all eternity will be opened to you.
[A helpful source: Matthew (The Anchor Bible Commentaries) by W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann.]