I walked outside this morning before dawn. There had been a storm in the middle of the night, and the cloud cover was still so thick that I really could see nothing, no stars or moon, not even the shape of the trees that I knew loomed out beyond me. Everything smelled wet and rained upon.
And there was sound. It was the sound of water dropping through and off of the trees and hitting the ground. It was not actually raining. It was the sound of the forest having just stepped out of its morning shower and shaking off the excess water. I stood and listened for a few minutes. And some words came to mind, ancient words still bearing ancient wisdom:
for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike.
I had to go and run it down. I knew it was from the Bible. I found it in the gospel of Matthew, part of the teaching of Jesus known as the Sermon on the mount. I stood there listening to the recent rain trickle through the trees knowing that the trees all over my forested neighborhood were drenched as these were around my house. Oak trees. Pine. Willow. Red Buds. Wild Pears. Magnolia–the Southern and the Japanese varieties. Holly and Maple. They all received the rain. None was discriminated against. Everything is possible. I really can allow my welcome to extend to all people, just like God sending the rain on the upright and the wicked alike.
That’s when the larger context struck me. Jesus was speaking to a crowd who had turned the world into those two categories: the wicked and the upright, Gentiles and Jews, God’s people and the nations. What I hear Jesus saying and inviting us to try out for ourselves is that there is no such world, and no such God who views people this way. There is rain. For all the trees. And sunshine. Go be like that. In fact, here’s the fuller context, and Jesus presses out the way of being in the world that he has in mind:
But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional. Do not even the gentiles do as much? You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Matthew 5:44-48, The New Jerusalem Bible
Okay, so maybe this lullaby HAS been sung to us before. And we forget. And we don’t really hear what it was saying to us. “Perfection” is allowing people to be who they really are.