The Sermon on the Mount is laced together with strong statements by Jesus.
How do you read the strong statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Pick one below and give it your best shot. How does the follower of Jesus’ ethical posture exceed the Pharisees? Is anger the same as murder with you? Lust? Divorce always wrong? (Or almost always?) Etc.
I’ll stick to Matthew 5 alone in this post just to make these strong statements clear:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Readers of Jesus’ words have been doing their best to follow them and live them and often enough by minimizing, softening, adjusting, assigning to the personal vs. public realms, etc. One strategy has been to soften the words, or contextualize the words, by noting their hyperbolic or exaggerated sides by comparing them to other words in the NT (or OT) where such a command seems not to be followed. Thus … these sorts of moves are made by Augustine and Chrysostom and Luther and Calvin (and by many today).
Thus, when Jesus says don’t call someone a fool we have to look at Galatians 3:1 where Paul did just that.
Or Jesus’ demand to turn the cheek to someone is not quite the way he responds in John 18:22-23.
The demand to love your enemies — well, we’ve got some strong comments about enemies in the Bible.
We are not to judge yet everyone in the NT does some of that (cf. James 4:1-6).