Jesus charges members of the church to confront those whom we think have sinned against us. He does not say that if we think we have been wronged we might consider confronting the one we believe has done us wrong. Jesus tells us that we must do so because the wrong is not against us, but rather against the body, that is, the very holiness of the church is at stake. Moreover, to be required to confront those whom we believe have wronged us is risky business because we may find out that we are mistaken.
Anger and lust are bodily passions. We simply are not capable of willing ourselves free of anger or lust. Jesus does not imply that we are to be free of either anger or lust; that is, he assumes that we are bodily beings. Rather, he offers us membership in a community in which our bodies are formed in service to God and for one another so that our anger and our lust are transformed...Alone we cannot conceive of an alternative to lust, but Jesus offers us participation in a kingdom hat is so demanding that we discover we have better things to do than to concentrate on our lust. If we are a people committed to peace in a world of war, if we are a people committed to faithfulness in a world of distrust, then we will be consumed by a way to live that offers freedom from being dominated by anger or lust.
Our speech always takes place in the presence of God. “Thus disciples of Jesus should not swear, because there is no such thing as speech not spoken before God. All of their words should be nothing but truth, so that nothing requires verification by oath. An oath consigns all other statements to the darkness of doubt. That is why it is ‘from the evil one’” (Bonhoeffer)
[Jesus] does not promise that if we turn the other cheek we will avoid being hit again. Nonretaliation is not a strategy to get what we want by other means. Rather, Jesus calls us to the practice of nonretaliation because that is the form that God’s care of us took in his cross. In like manner Christians are to give more than we are asked to give, we are to give to those who beg, because that is the character of God.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to be ready to be reconciled with those with whom we are angry, to be faithful in marriage, to take the time required to tell the truth – all are habits that create the time and space to be capable of loving our enemies.
We are called...to be perfect, but perfection names our participation in Christ’s love of his enemies.
Excerpted from Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible; London: SCM Press, 2006), pp. 68-72.