Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48)
I stumbled across Kermit the Frog’s disturbing cover of Johnny Cash’s poignant, profound cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails while I was thinking about perfection yesterday. These videos affected me. Am I not laboring over an empire of dirt?
Jesus exhorted us to be perfect. The goal of LDSism is to be found spotless and pure at the last day, to have our garments washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart. (Psalm 24:3â€“4) We long for a place above and away from this lone and dreary world full of thorns and travail and taint. If there is anything virtuous and lovely, we seek for these things. We want to forget the troubles of life and only remember the good. (D&C 58:42) Calgon take us away!
As I observed previously:
â€¦ the word perfect comes from Latin perfectus, past participle of perficere, (per, throughâ€”facere, to do) which suggests to my mind thoroughly made, or complete. The Greek word teleios translated as â€œperfectâ€ in the Beatitudes carries the same connotation of completion, integrity, and maturity. Itâ€™s interesting how the wordâ€™s original meaning has apparently mutated from â€œcomplete, mature, and wholeâ€ into something like â€œwithout flawâ€, a subtle but important difference in emphasis.
Hellmut also showed that LDSism takes Matthew 5:48 out of its context (especially since 3 Nephi 12:48 lacks the same context as Matthew 5).
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43â€“48)
Jesus’ words in context exhort us to be kind and loving to all men like God who makes the sun shine on all of his children. He says nothing about being flawless or stainless, even through the dubious contracts and payments of an atoning sacrifice.
Johnny Cash’s video showed me an example of this other kind of perfection, a perfection of compassion in an unideal world of regret and suffering. As Johnny looks back over his life near its end, he has fallen far short of his ideals. He has lost all illusion that his life will ever be perfect, even though he wishes it could have been another way. He is aware of the transience of life. His is a broken heart and a contrite spirit where profound compassion might take root and grow. This is the kind of perfection that I think Jesus was teaching, a perfection of compassion born of experience and maturity, the kind of perfection that I seek.
You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. That’s why my definition of the kingdom of God is not a place where suffering is not, where there is no sufferingâ€¦ (Thich Nhat Hahn, Brother ThÃ¢y: A Radio Pilgramage with Thich Nhat Hanh)