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Simcha FisherMarch 11, 2022
Photo by Ramez E. Nassif on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Saturday of the First Week of Lent


“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

If you like a good insult, you’ll love today’s readings.

First, Moses tells the people to keep God’s commandments perfectly, and God will reward them. It is the kind of reading that might drift along unheard right over our heads because we’ve heard this message so very often in Scripture. But the fact that we’re hearing it in Lent makes it a bit more uncomfortable. The entire context of Lent is: This is what happened because people didn’t keep the commandments.

The Old Testament is the story of people who got very clear directions about how to behave. Like us, they heard it over and over again, and they just couldn’t hack it. So God had to turn up in person.

The Old Testament is the story of people who got very clear directions about how to behave. Like us, they heard it over and over again, and they just couldn’t hack it.

And when he was there, he made things crystal clear, telling the disciples directly:

You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you.

And then he gives one of those rare and uncomfortable flashes of insight into his actual personality, saying with apparent exasperation,

For if you love those who love you,
what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?

This passage is both convicting and hilarious. Jesus knows his audience and speaks to them in terms he knows they’ll understand. “God expects more from you than he does from those jerks! Be better than those jerks!” he says.

But he saves his most devastating smackdown for the final line:

[I]f you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?

And then he concludes, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This line kills me. It kills me every time. He just sneaks it in there, like it’s no big thing: Just be perfect! I honestly think this is Jesus losing his temper for a second. He is thinking to himself, “We have been giving these people clearer-than-clear directions for 1,400 years now. We literally wrote their instructions in stone, and they still don’t get it.”

So he blurts out, “Guys, just be perfect, O.K.?”

And he knows they’re not going to.

Because the funniest part of all is what goes unsaid. He is telling the disciples that they are supposed to show love toward the jerks, the lowlifes, the people who haven’t done anything to deserve love. They are supposed to do this because it will make them like our heavenly Father.

Jesus is telling the disciples that they are supposed to show love toward the jerks, the lowlifes, the people who haven’t done anything to deserve love.

And what is it our heavenly Father does? He shows love toward us. So that makes us…the jerks, the lowlifes, the people who haven’t done anything to deserve love.

Insulted? You should be! I do believe that is how Jesus meant it. A little salt to go along with the overwhelming sweetness of the sacrifice of his body that he knew was coming because despite who we are, he loves us so inordinately.

I’ll admit it: I’m a jerk. Jesus loves me anyway. For his sake, I will listen to the message again, and I will try again.

Get to know Simcha Fisher, contributing writer


What are you giving up for Lent?

I am not crazy about making Lenten sacrifices public, but I can divulge that it is lame and should not be this hard.

Do you cheat on Sundays?

Depends how hard I think it will be to start up again on Monday.

Favorite non-meat recipe

Just discovered rigatoni alla disgraziata, which is hearty, filling, cheap and so much fun to say, it really hardly counts as a Lenten meal.

Favorite Lenten hymn

It’s hard to beat “O Sacred Head Surrounded” for Lent

Favorite Easter photo

A photo from several years ago, when some of my kids had some energy to work off after Mass.

Simcha Fisher Easter
More: Lent / Scripture

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