What happens to the sons after they return to the Father? They become men and fathers themselves and become like the Father. - Nouwen (paraphrased)
The pain of a slap in the face is really minor if you think of it. The point of a slap in the face is really not to hurt the other person but to humiliate them, maybe to get their attention in a way that says: “Pay attention to me! I set the agenda here!” Someone who does so is not necessarily an enemy, he is merely someone who claims priority or authority over you. If he is an enemy, then his slap is a way of goading you into a fight or a way of saying.
In Jesus’ time and place, a slap was an insult and required retaliation if administered by someone of equal or inferior standing and especially if it was administered by someone of a different faction or family. It was best if one was surrounded by friends and was prevented from launching a counter attack. It was also good if one was surrounded by ones family if one had launched the originating slap and could be pulled out of the arena quickly. It was best for all involved, including the intervening families, because it prevented bloodshed that had to be avenged and offered the possibility of letting tempers cool down and having the elders of each side settle the matter calmly.
St. Nicolas or Myra holds the title of “Patron Saint of Secret Givers.” He gained it by saving a father and his daughters from the humiliation of being found out as too poor to afford the daughters to marry. He gave quietly so the father and the house would not be obligated by customs or found out as needy.
Giving in Jesus’ time, and Nicolas’ time as he only live 300 years later, came with strings attached. One became obligated by receiving or being lent to and one expected allegiance of those to whom one had given or lent. To lend to anyone without strings was strange behavior. It was better to give and lend strategically to increase ones status and honor and it was good to have it made very clear that and to whom one had given. (Matt 6:2)
Jesus seems to contradict some rather common societal modes of operation here along with common sense: Loosing ones coat meant to walk around indecently like a beggar. Giving him your cloak meant freezing in the night as it was used to cover oneself if caught outside on the road.
Not only that, but: “be perfect like your Father in heaven is perfect?” That just makes no sense at all unless one believes that Jesus is setting unrealistic goals on purpose here. That he is aiming high is certainly true but I am not sure that here and in this instance, he is asking the impossible.
Let us think for a moment about what perfect might mean here. Nouwen takes the approach to translate the word as “mature,” in other words: Finished or complete in your being, no longer a child about the world around and aware of its flawed ways and means.
For a moment, just as a thinking exercise, let us assume that a god who is an cruel, immature brat; someone to who allows every insult to stick on him, someone who keeps a long list of wrongs yet to be avenged and a long list of debts yet owed to him, someone who has no problem plotting and carrying out revenge, someone to whom all life is cheap and the care for the individual by family or community is irrelevant. I have just described the opposite of everything Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 5.
In a certain way, the sermon on the mound is about the character of God. Beginning with the Beatitudes, a different sense of values and ways is being described. It is not too far fetched to say: Should not the children of God resemble their Father? In other words, should not the values of Jesus, the Son, be the values of the children of God who, one prays, will grow up to some level of maturity? “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Cor. 13:11) I note that 1 Cor. 10 notes that this will be when “completeness, Maturity,” comes these things will take place and the same greek term is used there as in Matt 5:48.
As the Sermon on the Mount proceeds, it becomes clear that those who would be disciples are indeed to act as if they had been raised by heaven itself and act as now mature offspring thereof. Their treasure is in heaven. (6:20) The fruits of their labor and existence are clearly the same as the fruits of heaven. (Matt 7:20) They address Jesus as “Lord” not as a matter of courtesy but because they truly know him as their superior and master of the house in which they live. (7:21)
It is not far fetched here on earth to say: “I see so much of your father in you.“ It is meant as a compliment or encouragement, usually. Is it far fetched then that one might say to a Christian who lives the life set before him by Jesus: “I caught a glimpse of heaven in you?”
We remember saints because at their time and in their lives, this is exactly what happened. Someone saw them and praised God for having sent them in His stead. They became the well of an icon on which the face of the Beloved Son was painted and allowed to spill over the well and into life because the icon does not contain the face but gives it to the world.
And you, church, would you ask this question: