Monday, April 29, 2013

Don’t even THINK about it!

 heard that it was said:
      ‘You shall not commit adultery’
But I say to you that: 
...everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
...If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it’s better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell....If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it’s better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

This week we come to the second of six lessons from Jesus that include his reflections on the Jewish law (Torah).  As in the past, let’s remember that he was speaking to Jews, just as Matthew was written for Jews, and this is their way of representing Jesus as a Rabbi. 

Also let’s remember that these teachings are not Jesus’ way of saying that we Christians must obey stricter rules than the rules given by Moses … rather, they are teachings that reflect God’s true desire for His children.  This particular lesson is often misused, so let’s try to clarify it.

I've been taught most of my life that Jesus is saying that lust is just as bad as actually having sex outside marriage.  As I've thought about it over the years, it is obvious this is wrong.  When David saw Bathsheba naked – he had not yet sinned.  The effects of his adultery and murder were much worse than the mere act of thinking she was sexy or attractive.  David hadn't yet sinned … but he had entered into temptation – and this is what this lesson is about. Before he had committed the actual sin, he had imagined it in his heart - and so tempted himself. 

This lesson from Jesus is like our others in this section – he is teaching us how to avoid sin altogether!  He talks about things that cause us to “stumble,” or get trapped, that trip us up … that make us vulnerable to failure.  When we’re on a diet and we’re super hungry and someone offers us our favorite food … then that person is being a stumbling block to us.  When one is trying to quit smoking and his “friends” offer him a cigarette – they’re being stumbling blocks.  And in this case when a man is sexually attracted to a woman, she can either help him or be a stumbling block. 

BUT: Jesus doesn't blame the object of desire!  He makes it a matter of our own choice.  That’s why (in this particular case) Jesus doesn't command us to tell women to dress a certain way or stop being attractive, but the responsibility is entirely on the man who is tempted.  Likewise, it’s not McDonald’s fault if I’m fat because they make great shakes.  It’s not Playboy’s fault for publishing pictures of beautiful naked women – it’s my responsibility to avoid it in the first place.   

Jesus suggests it’s better to remove body parts rather than risk the temptation.  This is hyperbole, of course, but it doesn't alter the truth.  It is, in fact, better to be blind in this life and go to heaven in the next. 

In summary, this teaching isn't really at all about mere sexual lust – in fact it’s about anything that tempts us to sin.  Gluttons should keep tempting foods out of their kitchens.  Alcoholics should stay away from bars and all of us must avoid situations that may tempt us.  Why?  Because Jesus knows we have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  James 1:14-15
Here James teaches this lesson plainly: We are tempted, then “enticed” by our desires … but then that enticement leads to our downfall, and if we sin and refuse to repent, we receive death. 

Jesus might have said, “The person whose phone is available to receive texts while driving is already crashing his car.”  Obviously this is an exaggeration, but we all understand it.  We know we shouldn't text while driving.  But we also know that if the phone rings with a new text, we can hardly resist the temptation to look at it.  So why not turn it off, or put it out of reach until we’re parked? 

Whatever your weaknesses are … don’t give them an opportunity.  Not because having the opportunity is sin by itself, but because taking such a risk is foolish.

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