Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Faithful Hearts

This is an article I wrote for a Safeharbor meditation/commentary series on Matthew 5:21-48.

27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' {27 Exodus 20:14} 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, 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 right 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 go into hell.

31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' {31 Deut. 24:1} 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Recent Hardee's (Carl's Jr., for you West Coasters) commercials have illustrated just how sinful we have become as a culture. We know sex sells. But, hamburgers...? Sex sells hamburgers? In 2005 Carl's Jr. insisted that they were not sorry for the "Spicy Burger" commercial, featuring a scantily clad Paris Hilton. To prove the point they've made more commercials, featuring lesser known, but equally clothed females.

Apparently, in Jesus' day, a lift of the veil was all it took to drive men to unfaithful acts. Public displays like those of the infamous Carl's Jr. adds, were less common (though not unheard of). And yet, unfaithfulness was still a problem. A quick read of the Old Testament will prove that point.

However, according to Jewish tradition, the term adultery was restricted only to sexual intercourse with the wife or the betrothed of a fellow Jew. In contrast, Jesus' words must have seemed austere. To look at a woman lustfully; that's adultery?[1] Not only so, but the indication of vs. 30 is that such sin, if left unchecked, can lead one to eternal condemnation in hell.

Part of us wants to take vs. 29-30 literally. We want to be faithful to Jesus. We don't want to be lost in hell. We want to please God to the deepest degree possible at the deepest level possible. If my eyes cause me to sin, take them away God! But when we pick up the gouging tool of choice, it becomes obvious that Jesus words are hyperbolic (in the literary sense). And even if I did gouge out my right eye, I still have another to sin with. What we ought to do, then, is remove temptation. Turn the channel, turn your head, don't stare—easy solutions. But what we need are not strategies; we need a heart devoted to God.

The discussion of divorce (21-32) naturally flows from that of adultery (27-30). Jesus makes more extensive comments on this topic in Matthew 19:1-12. That passage is helpful for understanding God's attitude towards divorce (as if Malachi 2:16 wasn't clear enough). For our purposes here, it should suffice to know that, according to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, a man could divorce his wife for something "improper."[2] The rabbis debated the nature of that improper thing many times over. According to some teachers, something as "improper" as burnt food was acceptable grounds for divorce. In such a situation, a certificate of divorce was necessary, if the woman was to be married again.

However, in Jesus' teaching from Matthew 19, it's clear that a piece of paper does not make one divorced. No, the bond of marriage is an everlasting bond, and the terms of the marriage covenant are sexual faithfulness.[3] In a society where women had difficulty finding means to provide for themselves, remarriage was nearly a necessity for a divorced woman. After divorce, the children became property of the father, and he retained all possessions; she never got the house. Because a piece of paper does not make one divorced in the eyes of God, the woman who finds herself faced with the decision to remarry or starve, is forced to commit adultery.

In view of such a strict standard. I'm thankful for God's grace. The divorce rate in the U.S. is currently around 50%; and the rate of divorce among Christians is comparable. It is God's mercy that allowed the Hebrews of the Old Testament to issue a certificate of divorce. It is God's grace that allows those of us who find ourselves on the other side of divorce, to renew our commitment of faithfulness to the spouses we currently have.

Whether we have been unfaithful with our eyes or we have forced our spouses into adultery, by leaving them alone, true repentance, marked by a commitment to faithfulness in the relationships in which we find ourselves, is what pleases our gracious God. A faithful heart is what he desires.

[1] In Jesus' day, men were responsible for the sin of adultery, not women. Women were viewed as property. When another man violated his brother's property, he was sinning, not only against himself, his own wife, and God, but his brother as well. If caught, adultery was punishable by death.

[2] In Jesus' day, men could divorce their wives, but wives could not divorce their husbands.

[3] The prominent feature of the ancient Hebrew wedding ceremony was the consummation of the marriage in sexual intercourse.


Post a Comment