The Road to Perfection

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administration

Comparison of various Gospel texts is the stuff that keeps Bible commentators excited and involved. I cannot claim to be any different. The reading from St. Luke's Gospel for today's Eucharist is a case in point: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36) Remembering that St. Luke's Gospel was written after the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, one could expect to find a similar statement in one of those Gospels. While it is similar, it isn't exactly the same. St. Matthew writes: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) The change of that one word is an insight into the thinking St. Luke who obviously counts God's mercy as one reason we call God "perfect."

St. Luke follows his statement with an explanation of what he means by mercy; namely, eschewing judgment of our brothers and sisters. St. Matthew uses the statement to conclude the section of the Sermon on the Mount which deals with the love of enemies. It can be argued that love of one's enemies is, in fact, an act of being merciful. Be that as it may, it is important that we remember that St. Matthew and St. Luke are drawing us to different pictures of the man Jesus; namely, St. Matthew portrays Jesus as the new Moses or new lawgiver while St. Luke portrays Jesus as the personification of God's compassion.

This does not mean that St. Matthew's portrayal of Jesus is more stern and forbidding that St. Luke's portrayal. Throughout his Gospel, St. Matthew keeps reminding us that we have received a gift from God, the gift of the forgiveness of sins. He stresses that the gift we have received is that which we should give. St. Luke's portrayal is different in that Jesus gives us many examples throughout his Gospel through parables which are not present in St. Matthew's Gospel. The primary example of this is the beloved parable of the Prodigal as well as the parable of the unforgiving servant. Finally, St. Luke completes the picture with the words of Jesus as he is hanging on the cross. He prays that God would forgive his executioners since they know not what they are doing, and then he forgives the repentant thief who is hanging on a cross next to his own. Neither saying are present in any but St. Luke's Gospel.

Mercy and compassion toward others, accompanied by a lack of judgment, stand before us as the road to perfection as we continue our Lenten journey.

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