In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus say that we must be ‘perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5: 48). But then in the Gospel of Luke, he clarifies what he means my perfection: “be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). God’s mercy is his perfection. Therefore we need to change our understanding of what it means to be ‘perfect’. Christians will often look at the original state of life in the Garden of Eden, and assume that we need to be perfect in the same way that Adam and Eve were perfect (prior to their fall into sin). From this perspective, our faith is all about avoiding sin, being perfect, and correcting everyone else when they stray from the right path.
Yet the strange thing about Christianity is that we are not trying to get back into Eden (the place of perfection). Rather, we are journeying towards the place of mercy. Heaven is not about perfection: it is all about mercy. We enter into heaven not by proving that we are worthy, but by acknowledging that we are not worthy, and therefore, desperately in need of the mercy of God. The more that we are able to live in mercy, both receiving and giving this grace, the more that we begin to experience the joy of heaven.
The Pharisees were constantly seeking perfection, as thought they were trying to fight their way back into the garden of Eden. Yet Jesus was trying to tell them that Eden was empty and they were wasting their time. When Jesus celebrated the pitiful efforts of the tax collector who was begging for mercy (Lk 18:13), he was pointing out to us the path that leads to heaven.
Through this mercy, we end up being in a better place than the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve knew the love of God, yet they never knew mercy in the way that we are able to know it now. As the Christian poet Edwin Muir wrote in his poem ‘One foot in Eden’,

What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.