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We see Jesus saying at Matthew 5:48 (NRSVCE)

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect"

Now, the image of God the Father that the Jewish people had had, before they listened to the teachings of Jesus including the Parable of the Prodigal Son, would be the one at Psalm 103:8-10 (NRSVCE):

" The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.He does not deal with us according to our sins,nor repay us according to our iniquities.""

That is, God the Father did get angry many a time and punished the Israel occasionally! Could the Jews therefore, treat Him as the role model of perfection? Would not Jesus himself, in human nature and form, make a better candidate as the role model of perfection for the Jews?

My question therefore is: Why did Jesus project God the Father as the role model of perfection? Does the Catholic Church offer any comments on the issue?

  • What research have done in this field? Certainly, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and many others have spoken on it! – Ken Graham Feb 28 at 11:36
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The short answer is YES. Jesus was a continuing revelation of God the Father who was already perfect but in Jesus the perfection became even clearer. Righteous anger is part of being perfect. No anger when situation warrants it is a defect.

Picture a perfect earthly father whose son has been rebellious for years. Righteous anger is part of being a perfect father to teach the son of the danger of idol worship and the danger of following the way of the world, which leads to death. What perfect father wouldn't show anger after years of patient pleadings were not heeded by the son? See Proverbs 3:12:

For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.

Anger would be an appropriate escalation so the son's ear is open. When the son finally hears and repents, the perfect earthly father will forgive, no longer angry, nor will he bring up the past again PROVIDED the son does not do the dangerous deed anymore.

So to answer your question: Israel's experience of the Father in the OT is consistent with the image of the perfect father described in Ps 103:8 and in the prodigal son parable.

Let's consider the details and application:

  • God gave plenty of warning to Israel by sending many prophets before the 2 exiles, exhibiting "slow to anger"
  • After punishing Israel with exile, God did do what Ps 103:8 describes: "He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever" by providing return from exile (Isa 40:1-5, etc.) and by later promising the new covenant.
  • When Jesus (the new covenant) finally incarnated to earth, Jesus became for the prodigal son Israel, the embodiment of God's forgiveness offer, provided they accept Jesus's status as God's Son, of course.
  • To qualify, the prodigal son has to walk back to the Father in repentance, which in Jesus's time meant to come to John the Baptist for baptism, and after Pentecost to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
  • As long as this son does this first step of repentance, the Father's anger will turn into compassion right away and that's how in the parable the Father runs to the son before the son even arrives home (Luke 15:20)
  • Please note that the parable is silent about the father's feeling before the prodigal son comes home. It is conceivable that the father was angry plus disappointed plus sad plus hopeful at the same time, similar to a perfect earthly father and similar to how OT pictured Israel's God!
  • Even today, in the New covenant era, God is still angry at sinners who don't want to repent, so how God responded to the Old Testament Israel can still be a lesson for us, reminding us to avail ourselves of His divine mercy and walk home like the prodigal son.

Conclusion: God's character never changes as he turns from anger to mercy depending on our response. Therefore, Jesus's teaching in Matt 5:48 is consistent with how God the Father acted in the past toward Israel.

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  • His final statement is: Why did Jesus project God the Father as the role model of perfection? Does the Catholic Church offer any comments on the issue? We should try to adhere to that, even though as you seem correctly to to deduce and I agree: There is no need to tag this as "according to the Catholic church" since all denominations will teach the same thing. – Ken Graham Feb 28 at 11:18
  • @KenGraham Thanks. I'll use this answer as a guideline – GratefulDisciple Feb 28 at 13:15
  • @KenGraham I was thinking the same thing, as I usually do for these lines of questions. I won't delete this answer unless someone takes the time to flag it, or another answer is posted and flagged for the same reason and it'd be hypocritical (i.e. raise hackles on meta) not to delete both. – Peter Turner Feb 28 at 19:19
  • @PeterTurner For my future reference, is there any issue with my updated answer being a Catholic answer when obvious Bible references are enough? I used an authorized Catholic translation. This question is such a unique juxtaposition of God's anger vs. God's perfection that I doubt that a theologian would take it up to write something seriously. I wrote the answer for the benefit of those new to Christianity / Catholicism who need a big picture answer. – GratefulDisciple Feb 28 at 22:20
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    @gra I defer to the community's judgement on that. It's usually a judgement call. I personally have a better time sniffing out Catholic answers on Catholic questions than say, Anabaptist answers on Baptist questions, (really wish there were Protestant mods nowadays) – Peter Turner Feb 29 at 14:55

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