“You have heard it said. . .but I say. . .” With these words Jesus sets a standard in following the Law that demands the work of a lifetime. Do not be angry or lustful and certainly do not hurl insults at anyone. Do not divorce. Always be as good as your word. Reconcile your differences.
One way of boiling all this down is to say that we must keep one another human to each other. We need to remain in relationship.
For me, this helps make sense of Jesus’ own incendiary speech. Later in his teaching he calls the religious authorities who have come out to hear him “white sepulchres” and says that, though they look great on the surface, inside they are full of corruption and filth (Matthew 23:27). It seems to me that he is speaking out of a deep disappointment in the people who have taken it upon themselves to be teachers. They are not measuring up to their sacred duties. They are excluding some of their own people from full participation in their communities — from relationship.
The rhetoric of fear and hate objectifies others. Calling immigrants “rapists” and “drug lords”; insisting that Muslims are terrorists; speaking disparagingly of women of high accomplishment allows us to think of these people as less than human. We can dismiss them as unworthy of our respect and support. This is a scary and dangerous phenomenon.
Calling someone a racist or a robber baron does the same thing. It increases divisiveness. Metaphorically speaking it makes the devil happy. This is true even though it’s a little different to call a person with unbelievable power and resources names than it is to erase the humanity of someone who has no way to fight back.
Jesus was always unequivocally supportive of those without voice or place in their communities — lepers, tax collectors, beggars, people who were unwhole. He healed the broken, never making them feel as if they had no dignity. He restored outcasts to their communities. He invited new understanding of what it means to be a neighbor to everyone, no matter what their differences.
Speaking truth to those in power is rarely about calling somebody names. At the same time standing up for those whose voices are silenced is not something we can ever back away from while still calling ourselves followers of Christ. It’s a tricky balance, since pointing out oppression is hardly ever appreciated.
Bottom line is this notion of relationship. We are all in community together. Every one of us is deserving of dignity. Every one of us belongs.