March 19, 2012: The Twenty-Third Day of Lent

March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

“You have 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 in his heart.” ~ Matthew 5.27, 28 ~

Christ continues to intensify the Law so that we can see the heart behind the command. Though the text has been translated in a way to make it more gender-specific, we can see the purpose of Christ’s statement. The purpose of the command, and his teaching, is to reinforce the strength of the marriage relationship. Both men and women are equally capable of breaking their marriage vows, and so this message applies to both men and women. In the time of Christ, men typically dominated the culture; it makes sense that Christ would speak primarily to them. However, because we can see the intent of Christ’s teaching, we know that women are not exempt. Or, along a similar line, looking at a man with lust can be just as harmful! The point is not who is looking and who is getting looked at; the point is that lustful looking should not be happening!

Our culture struggles with this greatly. In movies, advertising campaigns, and countless other avenues, “just looking” is become more accepted. Our culture would tell us, “After all, there’s no harm in just looking.” Adultery also is becoming more  acceptable on the grounds that if one’s spouse is deficient in some way, one is justified in embracing an inappropriate relationship with one who is more “complete.” These days, half of all marriages end in divorce; the Law and Christ sought to prevent this sad state of affairs.

Christ tells us that the act of adultery has its roots in a state of mind far, far earlier than the act itself. After all, one does not wake up one morning and think, “I know! I’ll go out and start an affair today. That sounds like fun!” Rather, one thing leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to another. The beginnings of an inappropriate relationship may be completely appropriate. However, when one allows the direction of a relationship to veer towards inappropriate territory, the violation of the Law of the Kingdom of Heaven has taken place at that point.

Under the Law of Moses, inappropriate relationships might have been allowed as long as actual adultery did not take place; however, these wrong relationships still undermined and eroded the strength of the marriages affected. Christ’s teaching tells us that the damage is done long before the actual act of adultery itself. Even if you’re “just looking,” or merely “entertaining fantasies,” you have already come to a place where your relationship with your spouse could be compromised. Christ pleads with us not to allow ourselves even to go this far.

This passage challenges us. For those who are married, this passage encourages its hearers to strengthen their relationships so that partners can be truly transparent with one another, find their needs met in one another, and not look elsewhere (or even entertain the thought!) that completeness may be found with another.

For those who are single, this passage represents a greater challenge. Even though one may not be in a marriage relationship, “just looking” still has the ability to undermine future relationships by setting up unrealistic expectations and allowing harmful thought processes to become engrained. These harmful ways of thinking taint relationships in the present and have the power to damage significant relationships in the future.

Christ calls us to a higher way. This teaching has far-reaching implications. Are you nurturing relationships that may lead to wrong places? Are you allowing books, magazines, movies, or any other media that reinforce the idea that “just looking” is OK? Do you find yourself thinking, “If I could only be with so-and-so, my life would be in a better place…?” Christ tells us that even though the actions may be innocent, the potential for harm must be avoided. This teaching is uncomfortable to hear, but we also remember Christ’s words: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The purer the heart is – the intentions, desires, thoughts, and motives – the more one can experience God in relationships that glorify Him.

Lord Christ, I confess that even though my actions may not have crossed the line, my mind and my heart have traveled to forbidden places many times. Help me to see all people as you see them, Lord; with your purity, honor, and love. Retrain my mind and purify my heart so that even my fleeting, hidden thoughts bring you glory. Amen. 

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