Last week we looked at a series of case studies Jesus used to show how he had come to fulfill the law and the prophets ( see Jesus,The Law and Us) and how we as his disciples are to live a life of light and salt. We saw how thou shall not murder wasn’t just a prohibition against the ultimate outworking of anger towards someone else, but rather a call to deal with the danger and damage that anger could do to people. We saw that Jesus called us to be people who would be about reconciliation, buildingbridges not digging graves. This week Jesus turns to that most basic of human relationships, that between men and women and Jesus tells us God’s real intentions for relationships between the sexes, is respect and fidelity, it’s not all about sex.
You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’
In scripture sexual relationships in marriage are honoured and respected as beautiful. In the genesis creation story we see that God created human beings male and female, the purpose for marriage is that a man and women will leave their existing family networks and form their own unit. That the two will become one flesh. God’s ideal for sexual relationships is within the confines of a loving, mutual, committed relationship. It’s the leaves and cleaves language some of us will know from the use of genesis passage at weddings. It is a relationship that needs the protection of the law like the seventh commandment and the ten against coveting a neighbour’s wife.
In fact the bible and God seem to have got the wrap of being anti-sex, that’s not the case. Let’s face it God came up with the idea. The bible also shows clear understandings of God’s ideal for us using that gift, it also gives us so many examples of humanities struggles and failures to uphold those ideal. Many Christian’s are surprised that the Song of Solomon is in the bible, because it is a book of raunchy ancient near eastern erotic love poetry. It celebrates the love and desire between a bride and groom. Now some of the metaphors haven’t stood the test of time, Kris probably wouldn’t find it romantic if I said to her she had a neck like a strong ivory tower that shield were hung off, her nose is like the tower of Lebanon pointing towards Damascus, and her hair was like a flock of goats descending from Mt Gilead. But it celebrates the passion a wife and husband have for each other.
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Just like with murder and anger Jesus moves on to challenge the underlying attitude in our heart. The Pharisees and scribes were happy with the prohibition about action, what was the limit, but Jesus wants to deal with treating people as objects of lust. It was not simply a narrow definition of sexual sin that left a very broad definition of sexual purity, says Jesus but that we have a different attitude. Jesus is not wanting to quibble about how far is to far what constitutes inappropriate sexual relationships, what’s the tipping point. Jesus is not wanting to get down to the ‘it depends what the meaning of the world is ‘is’ that we had from Bill Clinton in answer to a question about having sexual relationships with Monica Lewinski, Jesus is saying ‘don’t go there in the first place’. In the kingdom of God we treat people with respect and honour we don’t objectify them, we don’t allow lust to take root. We treat each other first and foremost as brothers and sister in Christ as fellow objects of God’s love and grace not of sexual desire.
Once again it does not mean we are to be a passionless people. But to have an adulterated passion.
In a kind of it depends what the meaning of is ‘is’ moment we do need to wrestle with what Jesus means by the word Look. AS Mark Woodly puts it “Jesus isn’t talking about an appreciative glance at feminine beauty or masculine attractiveness, since lust is an equal opportunity sin rather it has the sense of staring’. Let face it we are designed to be attracted to people. But look has the idea of leering, objectify that person and allow sexual fantasy to take root in our hearts, it’s like possessing the other person. Like inappropriate anger leads to damaging behaviour, the process is the same here. Martin Luther sums it up like this “ If we are not careful the heart goes after the eyes, so that lust and desire are added, which I ought to have for my wife alone”.
One of our problems of course is that this goes so counter to our culture. We live in a sex saturated society. We are bombarded by sexual images and messages. Pornography is available on the Internet. We see portrayals of weak men and women in TV’s and movies, who succumb to temptation, we have a romanticised ethic that if its love it’s OK. Let’s face it Sex sells… it sells music… it sells cars… it sells just about everything... even generators!
How does Jesus then suggest we live out this radical different way of life in such a society, how can we have an unadulterated passion in a sex saturated world?
So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Firstly, I think it’s helpful to see what Jesus isn’t saying.
Obviously, Jesus isn’t saying that amputation and blinding are the way that people who deal with issues of lust should handle things. That’s definitely not the sort of cleave Genesis has in mind In Matthew 18 Jesus applies this amputation metaphor expanding to the feet as well, to all types of temptation not just lust and sexual temptation, So it would probably leave us people in the Kingdom of God, without a leg to stand on.
Jesus is not talking about the imposition of some external factors or prohibitions to curb the problem of adultery and maintain sexual purity.
Martin Luther says the answer was not the strict separation of men and women in the Kingdom of God, mainly the cloistering of nuns and monks separately. The reality is it didn’t deal with the underlying problem. He argued such separation was not God’s will, if the answer to lust and anger was separation we wouldn’t need the 10 commandments. In the Kingdom of God we have to work out how to live together, in a way that reflects God’s grace. We need each other male and female, to be the body of Christ.
Another approach has been the imposition of strict rules and restrictions… on women mainly, like with the Islamic fundamentalist burkha, or veil. I love this cartoon on the screen behind me because I think it picks up something of the problem, whatever is or isn’t on the outside it covers up where the main problem lies. In people’s hearts and minds. It’s not about fashion, I guess Victorian society showed that covering up was simply a layer of civility over the underlying issue.
Modern Sex education seems to have the approach that these desires and urges we have are good and natural, and that’s a good approach, But can’t be controlled, they simply teach teens to make wise choices and to protect themselves and limit the negative effects. If they took the same approach to anger management it would mean issuing boxing gloves and saying you’ll now when the time is right for you.
But Jesus is consistent. Jesus approach is that it calls for self-discipline. That the follower of Jesus should work on their own hearts and attitudes. That it is a matter of self-responsibility. Note it’s not the imposition of that on others… Christians have been accused of that down through history. it’s a changing of one’s heart. It’s like this says Jesus … if you are tempted… don’t look… king David is the great negative example here. Bathsheba was bathing on the roof, Jesus advice would be don’t look, don’t linger and let that sexual desire grow. places. In the Book of Job, when his friends come and supposedly comfort him by saying you must have done something really wrong for all this calamity to befall you, Job defends himself by saying he has made a vow not to look on women who are not his wife in a lustful manner or to harbour such thoughts in his heart. Jesus says like with anger don’t let this get a root in your life Don’t let your eyes draw you in, Don’t look, Don’t do certain things, Don’t go certain places. It’s not repression of sexual urges, but openly acknowledging them and choosing to favour a different vision and work at self-discipline.
Some might see hellfire and brimstone, attempting to manipulate and control people with fear in Jesus saying it’s better to lose and eye or a hand rather that end up on the fires of hell. But first remember that the word for hell here comes from Gehenna the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem and Jesus is saying that we don’t want to end up throwing good marriages and right relationship and a community where people are treated with respect and valued as whole people rather than as simply sex objects, on the scrap heap because of this other rubbish behaviour.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul uses a metaphor for the Christian life that will fill our news reports and TV screens over the next month… he says that he is prepared to discipline his body and behaviour like an athlete so he can run in such a way as to win the prize. An athlete will fore go the temptations of sleep in’s, fast food, they will discipline themselves to win a prize and Paul says he chooses to live his life in a way that reflects the prize of knowing and being known by Christ. That’s the underlying motivation. Both those things the rubbish heap and knowing Christ have eternal elements.
I think this wonderful image does a good job of summing up Jesus teaching. The time to deal with lust is not when we’re out of control and crashing, it’s too late then, rather it’s when we are initially distracted… keep your eyes on the way says Jesus.
The kingdom of God is a place where men and women are valued equally and right relationships are to be maintained. Where both marriages are supported and encouraged and singe people are honoured as well, not just with the Pentecostal “god’s got a partner for you, but finding their need for community met…To achieve that we are to have a right attitude to sex and sexual desires and actions. NT Wright sums up his commentary on this passage by saying that it’s like a rose bush that in order to be a plant that produces a beautiful and strong flower, other buds need to be pruned, cut away to achieve a greater good.