This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have obtained the Lord's agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honour; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.
Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
God first chose Israel, and within Israel included each of us, as a people of his own choosing. God took the initiative to make his presence known within the depths of our mind and heart, in the subconscious of memory reaching back into that of our parents and ancestors, within the customs of our faith, echoing the prayer and traditions of our church. God's call surrounds us like the sun and rain. While we are still asleep, God summons the sun to spread a burst of light across our day; while we are distracted by duties and grumbling about drought, God orders the rain to drop moisture upon our dry earth and weary hearts. God first loves us.
Just as God acts out of love, each of us is called to respond "with all your heart and with all your soul." The book of Deuteronomy returns repeatedly to the theme of "today" as the time to respond to God. "Today you are making this agreement with the Lord." As with God so with us, the covenant needs to be renewed each day. Chapter 1 of Joshua extends the today of Deuteronomy into a recital of God's love and our loving response "by day and by night" (Josh 1:8).
Lent is a time of fasting and prayer, of much human work and dedication, so that we may be disposed to let the beat of God's heart and the rhythm of his spirit take possession of ours. Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord.
If we hear that someone is a perfectionist, it can conjure up in our minds someone who is very demanding and rather fussy about getting everything right down to the last detail. When Jesus says at the end of today's gospel, "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect," that is not what he means. The corresponding passage in Luke's gospel is almost word for word the same as the passage from Matthew, which we have just heard. Yet, it is striking that in Luke the gospel passage ends with Jesus saying, "Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate." Luke has captured there what Jesus meant by "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
In today's gospel, being perfect is identified with being loving to an extraordinary degree, loving our enemy, praying for those who persecute us, who make life difficult for us. Being perfect consists in loving in the way that God loves, which is with a love that doesn't discriminate on the basis of how people relate to us. This is the pinnacle of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that Jesus calls on us to love as God loves shows that he does not consider this call unrealistic. We may not be able to love in this divine way on our own, but we can do so with God's help. As Jesus will say to his disciples later on in Matthew's gospel, "for God, all things are possible." [MH]