Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)
Jesus wants us to be perfect. He says so in the Sermon on the Mount: “’Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” If that sounds impossible or unhealthy, consider this: perfection is not perfectionism. Perfection is not a self-conscious pursuit of never being seen with any fault. It is the justice that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of in today’s first reading.
Jeremiah tells the people that the Lord will raise up “a righteous shoot to David.” Israel has experienced numerous unrighteous kings. Now God is going to change that. He will place on David’s throne one who rules with justice. The justice begins with the king’s father who emanates goodness in everything he does. In a very trying situation Joseph shows control over his passions. Rather than making a scandal of Mary for supposedly violating their marriage covenant, he decides to separate from her quietly. He may lose his dowry, but he will save Mary shame. Joseph is demonstrating the perfection that the Law is designed to produce not a literal following of the rule as far as it goes, but a life of virtue.
Jesus provides us a much fuller demonstration of righteousness. More than example, however, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit so that we might carry out perfection in the most difficult of situations. It may be harder than ever to live righteously with all the temptations to self-promotion and hedonism today. We desperately need Jesus’ witness and the grace of the Holy Spirit to carry out his demand to be perfect.