The religious commands and injunctions found scattered throughout the sacred books of the Jews are generally admitted to be of very uneven spiritual value. Many represent interpretations of divine expectations which are ‘all too human’ – more revealing as examples of anthropology than of theology. From a theologian’s perspective, however, the many primitive and unspiritual ideas found in those ancient books are far outweighed (though not outnumbered), by a few inspired concepts which I think exhibit a spiritual acumen as high as any known in all the literature of religions.
What is more, I notice that some of the most high (and most demanding) OT exhortations were ascribed also to Jesus. For example, Mat 6:48:
“You therefore shall be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”
appears to be the Gospel upgrade for the earlier divine command which in the Torah introduces the ancient ‘Holiness Code’ in Lev 19:2:
“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”
The divine Son puts an interesting new spin on the old, but I don’t see where his innovation has lessened its tough (seemingly impossible) requirement. What he has done is to render the statement harder to misinterpret as a kind of guarantee of holiness in a person or group simply by dint of their covenantal association with God – an error which might lead one to brand all outside the covenant as unholy, as goyim.
As for the implied difficulty of following this divine injunction, I like the midrash offered by C.S. Lewis, which has Jesus saying:
‘Make no mistake; … if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect-until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’ – Mere Christianity, from Chap 31 ‘Counting the Cost’