How would you interpret these verses?
**Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt 5:48
Jesus is basically telling us that our goal is to be perfect. Note we are to be perfect as God is perfect. Even Aquinas, who held that a certain type of perfection could be attained in this life did not hold that we could be perfect in the way God is. He identified three types of perfection. The first is totally unique to God, the second cannot be achieved in this life. The third, which he does feel can be achieved, appears to only be a relative perfection, in which obstacles to love have been removed.
Hence we may consider a threefold perfection. One is absolute, and answers to a totality not only on the part of the lover, but also on the part of the object loved, so that God be loved as much as He is lovable. Such perfection as this is not possible to any creature, but is competent to God alone, in Whom good is wholly and essentially.
Another perfection answers to an absolute totality on the part of the lover, so that the affective faculty always actually tends to God as much as it possibly can; and such perfection as this is not possible so long as we are on the way, but we shall have it in heaven.
The third perfection answers to a totality neither on the part of the object served, nor on the part of the lover as regards his always actually tending to God, but on the part of the lover as regards the removal of obstacles to the movement of love towards God, in which sense Augustine says (QQ. LXXXIII, qu. 36) that “carnal desire is the bane of charity; to have no carnal desires is the perfection of charity.”
He goes on to say:
Reply to Objection 1: The Apostle is speaking there of heavenly perfection which is not possible to those who are on the way.
Reply to Objection 2: Those who are perfect in this life are said to “offend in many things” with regard to venial sins, which result from the weakness of the present life: and in this respect they have an “imperfect being” in comparison with the perfection of heaven.
Note that even the “perfection” of this life is imperfect. I would argue that if there is any kind of imperfection in it, that it cannot be called real perfection. Hence perfection remains only a goal in this life.
Quotes are taken from Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 184. Article 2
Again, with respect to perfection, we can also look at Augustine, who would seem to agree that true perfection is a goal to be aimed for, but not achieved in this life.
And in this prayer, unless we choose to be contentious, there is placed before our view a mirror of sufficient brightness in which to behold the life of the righteous, who live by faith, and finish their course, although they are not without sin. Therefore they say, Forgive us, because they have not yet arrived at the end of their course. Hence the apostle says, Not as if I had already attained, either were already perfect. . .Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. In other words, let us, as many as are running perfectly, be thus resolved, that, being not yet perfected, we pursue our course to perfection along the way by which we have thus far run perfectly, in order that when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part may be done away; that is, may cease to be but in part any longer, but become whole and complete.
Perfection of Human Righteousness, Chapter 8, 19
From this it results that the virtue which is now in the righteous man is named perfect up to this point, that to its perfection belong both the true knowledge and humble confession of even imperfection itself. For, in respect to this infirmity, that little righteousness of man’s is perfect according to its measure, when it understands even what it lacks. And therefore the apostle calls himself both perfect and imperfect, — imperfect, to wit, in the thought of how much is wanting to him for the righteousness for the fulness of which he is still hungering and thirsting; butperfect in that he does not blush to confess his own imperfection, and goes forward in good that he may attain. As we can say that the wayfarer is perfect whose approach is well forwarded, although his intention is not carried out unless his arrival be actually effected.
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Book 3, Chapter 19.
Paul also says that he is not perfect and then talks about those who are perfect.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
(Philippians 3:12-16 NASB)
Paul tells us that what we can have is a perfect attitude but not pefection itself.
So it is not that we can become perfect as God is perfect but that we should try to be so.