Does Jesus call us to be perfect people?
Not exactly. This idea comes from a misunderstanding of the context in which Jesus famously says, “Therefore, be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
Remember the old “What’s the therefore there for?” rule? In this passage, it’s the key!
Jesus has just explained to his disciples how to love and treat people, basically saying, “Don’t just love your neighbour; love your enemies too. Pray for those who persecute you. This is how you show yourselves to be children of God, because God’s character is such that he gives rain and sunshine to everyone, not just to ‘good’ people. God’s goodness toward people is holistic and comprehensive, not partial and divided. Selective love is contaminated love.”
Side note: we sometimes think that “God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous” means “Good and bad things happen to everyone, not just to good or bad people,” but that’s not at all what this means. Rain and sunshine, especially in pre-modern cultures where they grow their own food, are wonderful things – they are the stuff of life, a beautiful gift from heaven. Jesus says that God sends good things to everyone!
He then reminds his disciples that even the hated tax-collectors (read: politicians and parking inspectors) and heathens (the people the Jews looked down on as being ‘not God’s people’) love their friends, and do good to their neighbours.
But that’s not how God is, and that’s not how you should be either.
Therefore, since God is this way and you are his children, be holistic, comprehensive, genuine, consistent, and universal in how you love people, just as your father in heaven is holistic, comprehensive, genuine, consistent and universal in how he loves people.