The Revised Common Lectionary is working it's way through some tough spots in Matthew the last few weeks.
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall
not murder;' and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.'
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement."
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
"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/"
All wrapped up with: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect"
Discipleship is hard. We like to think it's smooth sailing once we meet Jesus, but following this carpenter holds no such promise.
If we can resist the despair these quotes might bring us---and I believe we must resist despair at all costs---I think we can find in these teachings something more than harsh words and hard lines.
I still contend the main purpose of the Christian life is to learn to love one another. This is a work in progress, always. We have moments of it, glimpses of what it might mean to love one another, but it's never a destination.
Like perfection. To be :"perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" is also a work in progress. And knowing this, if we embrace this, perhaps the lesson isn't to be more morally upright, but to find more humility on the journey.
These verses are stark, challenging. My priest even called them "icky." My hope (not my despair) is that following Jesus will find us progressing toward love, toward perfection, not as a destination or a place to sit and rest, but as a state that is ever shifting, ever calling us forward, ever moving us down the road Jesus leads us.
I believe Jesus raises the stake to give us a vision for the impossible. May we find the humility to be impossible disciples.