You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God has lived toward you. — Two translations of Matthew 5:48
The oft-retranslated passage above is an excellent indicator of the two minds that have tried to understand the Bible. The first mind reads the passage in terms of Platonic idealism and ego-based moralism. It uses a mathematical or divine concept (“perfection”) and mandates it for the human person. This leads readers to impossible head-based abstractions that only result in denial, splitting, and pretending. Yet, it appeals to the binary (“yes/no”) system of the ordinary mind, wherein all lose since none of us is perfect and never will be. This was the Gospel read and preached on, when I as a fervent 19 year old took my first vows as a Franciscan in 1962. Most of my fellow novices left when they honestly realized such perfection was beyond them. Only pretenders and optimists stayed on! I was one of them.
The second translation still sets the ideal very high, but now the goal has become divine union instead of any kind of private perfection. This translation is believable to anyone who has already experienced divine union at some level—and they know they were chosen and loved precisely in their imperfection! As Ken Wilber so brilliantly teaches, “It is not what a person says, but the level from which they say it that determines the truth of a spiritual statement.” A spiritually mature person could use the word perfection and know they are talking about God’s perfect abiding in us. An immature and still egocentric person will think of it as a moral achievement that they can personally attain by trying harder. Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi are my favorite saints precisely because they saw through this disguise.
The higher level approach is illustrated by a clear statement from Paul: “I no longer seek any perfection from my own efforts … but only the perfection that comes from faith and is from God…. We who are called perfect must all think in this way,” he says (Philippians 3:9, 15). Paul rightly redefines perfection as the gift of divine union rather than any kind of achievement or performance on our part. All we can do is agree and cooperate with what God is already doing.
from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality