"You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.
It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Don't commit adultery. What more need be said?
That's pretty straightforward. But Jesus said he came to magnify the law and make it honorable. So there you go. But wait. There's more. The wandering eye will lead you astray . . . you can be there before you know it. Lost in lust. Adultery.
So what to do? Jesus says pluck your eye out. That's tough.
Maybe you committed Adultery and didn't even know it. Sorry to upset you, but read what Jesus said there in Matthew 5:27-32. Go ahead now, pluck your eye out.
So how does Jesus magnify this law and make it honorable, bigger and better? It’s not that he meant to bring you more trouble. Careless or intentional lust, it makes little difference, the result is adultery—adulteration, a mixing up of perception, experience; a confusion of the heart. It's a route to a bad place, alienation and betrayal; follow the route and we’re right back at the knowledge of good and evil.
So, shall you pluck your eye out because you watched the Miss America Pageant, gazed too long at a passing person? Sneaked a peek inside National Geographic? Your brain remembers those images. They tumble out telling you over and over what the ideal woman, or man, really is: young, slender, strong, virile, compliant. Pluck your eye out?
Jesus' message on the mount is, and must be, Good News. So, what of this warning of adultery, this advice to pluck out eyes, cut off hands and live a celibate life? It may seem doomed to fail.
We haven't solved that, but let's go on anyway. Does Jesus forbid remarriage? He says marrying a divorced woman causes HER to commit adultery. Really? How does that work? You cause another person to commit adultery? Really?
In Jesus' audience were people of privilege. They were men. A man, in those days, for the most trivial reason could divorce his woman, send her away to a life of poverty, where one might do anything just to live, to eat. While he gets a do-over.
So how would a man make a woman experience adultery? Look at it this way. Adultery is adulteration. You don't tolerate that in your food. If you buy olive oil it's supposed to be pure, unadulterated olive oil. That's adulteration. Mixing.
After all these millenia aren't we all “adulterated,” maybe even beautifully mixed? We all come from somewhere. Marriage is meant to be a sublime blending. Adultery is merely mixing, mixed minds, mixed memories. Jesus warns against the falseness of ordinary mixing and to treasure sublime blending.
From accidental or intentional mixing, can Jesus bring redemption? I say yes. The easy reading of this would lead us to insist that people would forever remain alone, bereft of human affection and companionship. Shall a church then weaponize such words, or will a church interpret the healing?
Redemption has to extend to men and women who have failed in love, whether through fault of their own or as victims. There is light at the end. Trust me. Jesus says you can and must be born again. And he offers it freely.
If we're going to believe in redemption, then it seems we ought to believe in new life.
And for those who experience the failure of divorce, there are likely feelings all along the spectrum from relief to a ripping of the soul. The question today, in the Christian community, is, “Where is redemption to be found?” If the church is not about redemption, about making whole, about putting back those hands and eyes, about sharing the heart— if the church can't show the way to this wholeness, then it cannot do the work of Christ.
Look at it this way. Divorce can feel like dying. It is a dagger, the failure of solemn vows, a coming apart. Is there redemption? Is there resurrection? If Christ can bring his resurrection power and create a new body, how much more easily can he fan the flame of life and affection where there still is life. Let God do the redemption work God wants to do: Keep you from falling when you stub your toe. Pick you up when you do. Redemption is his delight in all things.