"If you curse at people you are probably going to hell," Jesus (ECSV: East Central Spokane Version)
It's easy to get overwhelmed and maybe even develop a deep paranoid case of introspection after reading Matthew chapter five. Don't look on anyone in lust and don't get angry or curse are two of the verses most people read and scratch their heads at the seemingly impossibilities of such an ethic.
“But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell."
I find it interesting that many argue for a strict adherence to other ethical imperatives from Jesus, yet soften the blow on these with various calls for context and perspective. The argument will seek to explain that these verses talk about the end result of a life given over to such dispositions, not simply the presence of these infractions. There's an understanding presented that Jesus was peering into the future of a soul that practices such activities and where that will most likely lead. They will reference how Jesus himself used spicy and provoking words of judgment against his adversaries, so we see that it's not really a moral imperative but more of a good life proverb. What's interesting to me is how the same logic isn't extended to the teachings of non-violence. In that arena, it's law not growth. One is convicted at once with the words of peace instead of oriented towards a way of peace. This way of handling the ethical teachings of Jesus is very problematic to me.
I've been digging into these issues for years and what I am finding out about myself is that it's much easier to write about peace than live peace.
I appreciate Stanley Hauerwas when he honestly says:
"I say I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son of a bitch. I’m a Texan. I can feel it in every bone I’ve got …But by avowing it, I create expectations in others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what I know is true but that I have no confidence in my ability to live at all."
The problem with that confession for me, is it seems to build a way of living with oneself that is a lie or at least an illusion. If someone says they believe and practice fidelity to their wife and yet, they indulge in pornography, live a lustful life in heart and mind and see all relationships with women as potential fodder for their own fantasies, can one truly speak of a changed heart?
Are we calling people to a livable state of being or merely an intellectual way to handle a few difficult and fairly circumstantial statements from Jesus?