Moses exhorts the Israelites to keep the commandments so that God will reward them with good life. Not to honor the commandments leads to death and destruction. Jesus urges his followers to “be perfect and your heavenly Father is perfect.” Luke’s version calls upon them to “be merciful or compassionate as the heavenly Father is merciful or compassionate.” Somewhat contrasting challenges, to say the least. The first from Moses relies on command. The second from Jesus relies on invitation.
To use Richard Rohr’s analysis, I think Moses represents first half of life stuff. The commandments are necessary to build the container or structures which lead to wholesome living. This was Thomas Merton’s experience. In the first half of a dissolute life Merton was adrift. He had to find the monastic structures which helped him build his container before he could enjoy the second half of life where contemplation led to great compassion. He then understood that he was one with God, his fellow human beings and all of creation. This is second half wisdom which births mercy, justice and compassion. This is the second half wisdom which builds on first half foundations.
When Jesus pulls the “you have heard it said but I say to you” he is talking about emerging from first half stuff into the pilgrimage of the second half of life. Jesus invites us to leave the security of hating our enemies so we might take the risk of actually loving our enemies. He invites us to reject revenge and embrace mercy. He encourages us to leave behind “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) so we can walk with compassion in the shoes of the other. We have to unlearn first half stuff in order to journey through the send half. Rohr reminds us that the Dalai Lama said, “Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.”
Rohr also redefines “perfect,” A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection. (Falling Upward, Kindle Edition, location 333) In other words, the perfect person is merciful and compassionate. Matthew and Luke both have it right.
The second half is about wisdom. It is about re-capturing our True Self, our Original Self, our spark of the Divine. Rumi says it all for me in one of his poems:
Come back my soul, how much longer
will you linger in the garden of deceit?
I have sent you a hundred messages
I have shown you a hundred ways
either you never read them
or you ignore my advice.
Come back my soul, do not waste
time with the cold-hearted
they do not know your worth.
Why do you seek water
when you are the stream?
Have you forgotten? You are
the king’s falcon, you are a ray
Of the Beloved, a divine wonder!
A ray of the Beloved, a divine wonder. A child of God. Your original face before you were born. The blueprint for what you can become as your True Self emerges in the second half.