As a boy, I brought my report cards home with a mixture of pride and uncertainty. I was a good student, schoolwork came pretty easily to me, and it showed in my grades. Comparing test scores and grade point averages with my peers I did well and could feel good about myself, but once I handed my report card over to my father I knew what question to expect next, “did you do your best?”
The evaluations I faced at school were external, objective and standardized. The evaluations I encountered with my father were internal, subjective and personal. He was not asking me if I’d “met or exceeded expectations,” he was asking me if I was living into the fullness of my God given potential.
As we continue working our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount during these weeks of Time after Epiphany, Jesus is challenging those who would follow him to live into reign of God drawn near. The beautiful poetry of the Beatitudes takes on flesh in us as we become salt and light – calling forth the best from the world that surrounds us, preserving the world against decay, exposing injustice and driving out fear.
That kind of living, that kind of discipleship, cannot be legislated – it is motivated by aspiration, not expectation. Against a form of living that imagined cultural identity and religious purity would be maintained for the Jews under Roman occupation by withdrawing from empire and forming communities of righteous observance of Mosaic law, Jesus challenges those who love God to exceed the expectations of the law by loving those whom God loves, which is all of us.
These are the sorts of expectations I will never master. I will never bring a report card home to my father with the letter “A” next to the item “loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him.” I will struggle with this form of discipleship, this way of loving God, my whole life long. But, as with my own father, God is not evaluating me with reference to my peers. God is ever calling me into more human ways of being human, calling me to examine my motives and my choices, inviting me to live into the potentials of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, and asking “did you do your best?”