Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:48
Perfection is a tough subject. On the one hand, when I think of 'perfect' I think about a master artisan, like a potter, working for years on her craft and mastering her art. There is something truly beautiful about seeing that kind of mastery in action, and also in the sublime objects such a master artisan can create. There is also something truly beautiful about a commitment to mastery - to fluency.
On the other hand, perfection can become a harsh standard that creates a sense of inferiority or dissatisfaction with even our best efforts if we use it as a measure of our worth.
Someone recently sent me the most lovely card. On the cover is a picture of a beautiful green bowl with a shining golden crack in it. Under the picture of the bowl it said:
In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object's history, which adds to its beauty. Consider this when you feel broken.
In the verse above from Matthew, the Greek word translated as 'perfect' can also be translated as "whole" - Be whole as your heavenly father is whole. Clearly, there is no way we can be as whole as God any more than we can ever reach perfection. But there's something about wholeness that rings more helpfully in my ear than 'perfection.' Because a cracked bowl can be whole and beautiful, even with all its imperfections.
In "The Message," Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 5:48 this way:
In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
Wholeness, like maturity, is something that takes shape over time, like pottery taking shape on the wheel. One completed and beautiful bowl represents lots of prior mistakes, false starts and do-overs. Both ugliness and beauty are contained in every piece - both the once shapeless mud and the fine, finished product.
It is only in God's able hands that we are formed into who we will become through every experience we are given in this life. Our wholeness is not what we ourselves create, but what our creator gives to us. And over time we are formed into vessels that are useful in God's world - able to live generously and graciously toward others, reflecting to others the way our Creator has generously and graciously lived toward us - in whatever way, or for however long, God gives us to do it. I trust that in the end, we will all find God's wholeness and be able to continue to live more fully into God's generosity and grace, even after death.