Potential for Perfection?
I was reminded of something I was taught at seminary by a great theologian—a native of Meridian, Mississippi—the Rev. Albert T. Mollegen, or "Molly," as we all called him. One day in class he was answering a question about a particularly difficult passage from St. Matthew's Gospel, "…Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." We students were having a tough time imagining that Jesus had called us to be perfect, perfect just as God is perfect. Molly told us something that has helped me ever since. What is meant by this instruction about our lives is more clearly expressed this way: "Be perfect within your potential for perfection just as God is perfect within God's potential for perfection."The full text of this is part of a sermon on the portion of The Lord's Prayer on forgiveness and is found online here.
Now I know that I do not have the potential, in this life, for perfection. I am human, therefore imperfect. So the standard against which I need to measure myself is most certainly not God—we know that God IS perfect. The standard against which I should measure myself is, at best, my potential for excellence but never perfection. We all have the potential for excellence. It is when we think we can be perfect that we get into trouble.
I'm not sure if I want to lower the bar quite so readily as Mollegen, though I do agree that God knows us well and does not judge us against an unattainable standard. A slightly different take on this passage is found in the sermon Become Like God which is in our archives. What do you think? In what way can we be perfect as God is perfect?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor + King of Peace Episcopal Church