We can’t look at Jesus’ words apart from the time and place in which he said them nor can we look at his words apart from the audience to whom he spoke.
Jesus was speaking to Jews in the first century. Don’t forget that.
The quote in the original post was from Matthew 5 is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ manifesto and in it Jesus radically redefines for the Jews what it means to be holy. That’s one of the purposes of the Sermon on the Mount, to teach the Jews, and to teach us, what it realy means to be holy in God’s eyes.
For a Jew at the time of Jesus, it was the Law of Moses which defined sin and holiness. If you broke the law of Moses you sinned and were unholy. If you kept the law of Moses then you were holy and righteous. Only when all of Israel was perfectly holy would the Messiah come. Anyone who transgressed the Law of Moses was unholy and was personally preventing the Messiah from coming, and therefor had to be seperated from the community.
That was the problem with the way the Pharisees and the Chief Priests practiced Judaism. Holiness meant seperation from anyone who was not Jewish and anyone who sinned. Those who broke the Law of Moses were considered sinners, unholy, and they were cast out, shunned, and ostracized. The Jewish religion as given to the Jews by God was meant to show God’s mercy. Slaves were to be released every seven years. Debt was to be forgiven every seven years. Mothers and fathers were to be repsected. Widows and orphans were to be cared for. Just as Israel had been released from captivity in Egypt, so they themselves were to treat slaves, debtors and the land itself. But the Israelites had stopped doing these things and the Pharisees and Chief Priests taught a very harsh treatment of sinners, defining them as unholy and requiring seperation from the community, all the while doing ethemselves xactly what they preached against.
In the Sermon on the Mount however, Jesus radically redefines holiness for the Jews. Holiness as taught by Jesus was no longer to be defined according to how well you were able to obey a set of rules which were laid out by the Pharisees and Rabbis who intepreted the Law of Moses. Holiness was to be defined as how you treated other people.
Jesus the Rabbi assumes the classic rabbinical teaching posture, sitting before his hearers, and teaches using rabbinical teaching techniques, here using the formula, "You have heard that it was said (behavior under the mosaic law)" followed by "But I say to you (new behavior)"
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. (Matthew 5:38-39)
Jesus raises the bar and tells us that true holiness in God’s eyes is not whether we obeyed the pharasitical interpretation of the Mosaic Law but that holiness in God’s eyes was defined as how we treated other human beings.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:43-44)
***You have heard that it was said *to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)
You have heard that it was said… But I say to you…
As a Rabbi, Jesus was reinterpeting the Mosaic law and reapplying it to the every day circumstances of his listeners. The Pharisees and Chief Priests question Jesus’ rabbinical teaching authority, his authority to interpet the law.
***When he had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” **(Matthew 21:23) *
Jesus had never studied under a Rabbi and so would have had no authority to interpret scripture and the Law of Moses. Jesus would have had no authority to stand in the temple and teach what we now call Moral Theology.
But Jesus is God. Jesus has the authority to teach and to redefine holiness because he is God, and God was the one who gave the law to Moses! Jesus had the right to reinterpret the law of Moses because he himself, as God, had created the law! But to focus on the authority is to be like the Phariesses who questioned Jesus authority to intepret the Law of Moses. The Pharisees and Chief Priests didn’t care about mercy or compassion or how people were treated or about God. The Pharisees and Chief Priests cared about loosing their own authority. That’s all they cared about.
To quesion Jesus authority is to miss the point and to take the sides of the Pharisees. We are all guilty of it, justifying our own selfishness by saying things like “God wants me to be happy”, so we sip five cups of coffee in our SUV’s while homeless people sleep under the freeway overpass. God’s church doesn’t have the authority to tell me that my behaivor is wrong. And so we act like the Pharisees and treat other people like garbage.
Jesus does not qualify his teaching. We are to love the person who is trying to kill us. The authority for him to teach this to us is the fact that he is God.