Insert text here.
"Do not commit adultery."--A call to love and faithfulness within the marriage relationship.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
"Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."
Matthew 5:27-32 NKJV
Marriage - God's Dream; Our Reality
In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is taking on the passions. First anger and the desire to harm, and now lust and the desire for intimacy. This is what you have heard and been taught. . . . But this is what I say. . . ! With those words Jesus addressed all who want to be a part of God's kingdom.
"You have learned the commandment, 'Do not commit adultery.' But this is what I say: Whenever lust is in your heart and mind, you have already committed adultery!" For a married person to lust is instantaneous adultery, an act of unfaithfulness to one's spouse! Right off the bat, Jesus has placed us all in the guilty field and left no room for the superior feelings of self-righteousness.
What Jesus said next points to the serious nature of this 4-letter word. For anyone who thinks lust is a fun source of momentary enjoyment this may come as a surprise, hopefully a wake-up call. Because Jesus recommended drastic action, something resembling major surgery. Better to be maimed and innocent than to have all our parts and lose our soul. Hands are not for taking what is not ours to take. Eyes are not for desiring what is not ours to have. This is vivid imagery and we get the point.
We may not be able to stop a lustful thought from entering our minds, but we can keep that thought from taking root. One woman counters lust by raising the image of the communion chalice in front of the man who has heated up her sparks of passion. Looking at him through the chalice purifies her thinking. It kills what is inappropriate so that all that remains can be blest by God. With the communion chalice between them, she can go on in the purity of the love with which we are to love one another.
The tragedy of adultery is that I betray the trust of my spouse. I am disloyal to the one who cares for my needs, and reject the one who loves me. It cuts like a knife to the heart. Excuses, lies and deceit do not cover my unfaithfulness.
In the days of Jesus, Greek men had wives and mistresses. Roman men married and divorced repeatedly. Jewish men were allowed to divorce their wife, without her consent, if she displeased him. A wife could only divorce her husband with his consent. A women had no legal rights and needed a man--father, brother, husband, or other relative--to insure her protection. We are not surprised that Jesus cried foul to this unjust and potentially abusive system.
To those of you who think you can divorce at will, Jesus said--Think again! You may (not should) divorce her if she is unfaithful to you. If you divorce her for any other reason you are causing adultery, the very thing this commandment said we must not do. And anyone who marries her will get caught up in the tangle of unfaithfulness which you began.
I believe Jesus came at the subject of marriage and divorce from heaven's perspective. One of the descriptions of God in the Old Testament is of God being a loving, patient, sometimes angry, yet always faithful husband to his wayward wife Israel. There were times when God's people rejected him--wanting someone or something else, running away from him, trying to sever the ties and end the relationship. In that sense, God knew firsthand the pain caused by infidelity.
I also believe God designed the relationship between husband and wife as the highest and best option he could conceive. Why else would God want to be husband to his people! Why else would the final scene of the Bible be the celebratory feast at the wedding of Christ and his bride, that great company of believers. The union of willing partners in a loving relationship is the ultimate fulfillment of God's dream to live in a covenantal relationship with his beloved people. And if its good for heaven, it should be good here on earth too.
Therefore Jesus did not want to hear about certificates of divorce, about giving-up and abandoning one's spouse. So what are we in the 21st century to do with these words of Jesus? What are we to do about our imperfect marriages? Our divorces and remarriages? Our loneliness and longings for a soul-mate?
I came across an article by someone who was trying to understand why her mother was "stalwart and noble" when her husband died, yet cried hard and long about the death of her dog a few weeks later. She wrote, "My mother loved my father, but their relationship was burdened with disappointments and perceived betrayals. But Jenny? Jenny sparkled with nothing but joy and devotion. She asked for little and gave everything she had in return. There were no hard words late at night, no angry glances or saturated silences. No baggage." [Patricia B. McConnell in Bark magazine, Sept/Oct, 2006, page 61.] Those words sound oddly familiar. And it's true, our pets sometimes do a better job than we do when it comes to loving our spouses!
In every marriage there will be unrealized expectations, painful realities and the recurring question, "Who needs this?" It doesn't take long to realize there is no love without pain. Sadness and joy walk hand in hand, and we learn to take the bitter with the sweet. But the grass is no greener on the other side of the fence, so don't bother to even go looking for better fare. Instead put your energy into cultivating your own space with love and attention. The bottom line: Love the one you have.
Jesus' words are not intended to make anyone feel proud, inferior, angry or inadequate. They are a call to enter his kingdom, an invitation to be with him and learn from him. Wherever you are in life and whatever has happened to you in the past, God loves you and will be faithful to you, no matter what. God is for you, not against you. Single, married, divorced, going around again, maybe again and again--to all of us, Jesus says, "Come follow me."
One of my favorite hymns in the United Methodist Hymnal expresses the challenge of keeping faith, hope and love alive. It goes like this:
When love is found and hope comes home, sing and be glad that two are one. When love explodes and fills the sky, praise God and share our Maker's joy.
When love has flowered in trust and care, build both each day that love may dare to reach beyond home's warmth and light, to serve and strive for truth and right.
When love is tried as loved ones change, hold still to hope though all seems strange, till ease returns, and love grows wise through listening ears and opened eyes.
When love is torn and trust betrayed, pray strength to love till torments fade, till lovers keep no score of wrong, but hear through pain love's Easter song.
Praise God for love, praise God for life, in age or youth, in husband, wife. Lift up your hearts, let love be fed through death and life in broken bread.
--Brian Wren, 1978
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Briefly describe a couple who you think has a happy marriage.
In the previous study on the "Do not murder" commandment, the passion was anger and our relationship to our brother. In this passage the passion is lust and our relationship to our spouse. What are the similarities between anger and lust? What is the role of our thoughts in these passions? Is it true that thinking a lustful thought makes us unfaithful to our spouse?How do you retain control over your thoughts and actions when our lives are constantly bombarded with sexual images and messages? There are many reasons people are unfaithful to the vows of marriage. Name some of them. Which ones do you consider legitimate reasons to divorce?What are some ways couples work through their problems and avoid divorce?Is the person who files for divorce responsible in any way for the future well-being of their ex?
Think about your own family history. How common is divorce in your family? How did your grandparents view divorce? Your parents? Is your perspective on divorce any different than your parents?
There's even debate whether the exception for unfaithfulness was included in Jesus' original statement on divorce because Mark (10:2-12) and Luke (16:18), the earlier Gospels, do not include it. What difference would it make in your understanding of Jesus' teaching on divorce if that clause were not present?You won't get support for your divorce from Jesus, except maybe if your spouse slept with another person. How do you feel about that statement? And is it true?
How can we heal the wounds of love? When the bonds of love and trust are broken, can they ever be restored? If so, how? How do you overcome the temptation to give-up on love? Have you ever heard, or did you ever sing, love's Easter song? Is there any cure for loneliness?
God is faithful to us no matter what! How can our experience of God's love and grace help us to love each other more completely?