First, a recap. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is one continuous dissertation on 6 universal habits that sabotage love, presented in a specific order. Last week, we looked at Step 1: getting rid of habitual, willful anger and contempt. These always seek harm, which always returns harm.
By contrast, to love means to wish or seek good for someone. (This does not require affection. You don’t necessarily have to like people or their behavior to love them.)
Anger is a reflexive emotion triggered by an offended sense of internal justice. Its only purpose is to alert you to something that needs attention. Mercy is the antidote, an active force once it’s put in motion correctly.
You practice mercy by acknowledging the offense (not necessarily out loud), but temporarily suspending the sense of indignation until the anger subsides—a day, a month, whatever. Anger has done its job and can be put away. Now you can deal with the situation with a less scornful spirit. You’re thus empowered, in control rather than dragged along by every aggravation.
To most people, this sounds ridiculous or flat wrong, so they refuse to embrace it. But by giving up your “right” to be mad, not only do you break the grip of willful, retained anger over yourself, you automatically bless neighbors because they cease to be targets. Your new, more relaxed spirit feels greatly relieved, and the natural result is improved relationships.
But this takes intentional desire and planning ahead. It doesn’t happen by itself, nor does God do it for you. It’s how you love your neighbor as yourself.
Now then, as we move to Jesus’ second step—adultery and divorce—Step 1 must be in view. It is not a stand-alone. Remember, Jesus is a builder; his Sermon is not only sequential, it’s cumulative, like building a house. When the Sermon is chopped into bits in no particular order, it becomes nothing but a random collection of divine gripes instead of an intelligent Way to mend the soul.
Also, each new step assumes that the previous one is fairly well-established. Like learning ABCs before writing words, you don’t move on until you’re ready. God blesses and moves with you at your pace and ability.
You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…. It has also been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” (Mat. 5:27-29, 31-32)
If you apply this only to literal women, wives, and body parts, you’ll miss the point. This is primarily about spiritual adultery and divorce from God, although there’s a corresponding physical application. The Greek word moicheuo means both adultery and idolatry, which Jesus simply personifies here to illustrate his point.
The “woman” we lust after is precisely the sinful habits we’re so reluctant to give up. (Jesus later calls her a great harlot, Mystery Babylon, in Revelation.) By contrast, the “wife” that shouldn’t be divorced is God’s faithful wisdom and “her” children: love, truth, peace, joy, and so on (see Mat. 11:19, Luk. 7:35). Because evil masquerades as right, things get reversed, so “the whole world” chases the familiar, but wrong woman and sees God as the wayward stranger.
The “adulterous generation” Jesus spoke of elsewhere didn’t die with the Pharisees. It lives on because it’s a mind-set that undermines compassion, blessedness, and well-being. Jesus knows that all sin is adultery, and all sinners, married or not, are adulterers.
He drove this point home when the Pharisees dragged a literal woman, caught in physical adultery, into the synagogue to stone her. Jesus said that he who is without sin may cast the first stone (Jhn. 8:7).
What Are You Looking At?
First, obsession over wrongness of neighbors is a deeply ingrained spiritual lust. Recall that anger is triggered by an offended sense of justice, and that regardless how small the infraction, the common reaction is scorn. We’re laser-focused on people’s wrong-being, not wrong-doing. So when they don’t even have a right to exist, it fuels the hellfire of every kind of abuse. Goodness and mercy are impossible.
Jesus never attacked anyone’s worth. He never accused people, not even the Pharisees, of wrong existence. He always addressed sins and the condition of souls—specific habits of mind, heart, and behavior. Obsessing over others or looking down in contempt, even on enemies, is a high-maintenance harlot that can never get enough.
Second, physical lust views people as objects in an attempt to satisfy various cravings, sexual or otherwise. It’s why rape is rarely about sex, but about a sick sense of power and control. By contrast, Godly power and self-control increasingly satisfies because it’s so abundant. He gives more and more to those He can trust to use it safely, for good.
Cut It Out
So how do you quit embracing the harlot and re-marry God’s wisdom? You gouge out your right eye, of course! Now, if Jesus meant this literally, people could chop off and gouge out all sorts of body parts, yet never heal their hearts and minds. So they’d just hobble and roll into hell rather than walk.
The right eye or hand/foot are simply idioms for the distorted sense of rightness used to harm all those target-neighbors. Get your eyes off of them because you’re the only one you should aim for. It sounds backwards and not what we usually hear, but in Jesus’ own words, it’s better to lose this habit than to live in the hell of constant unrest.
If you cut it out, you’re much less burdened or anxious. But, like Step 1, you must desire and plan ahead to divorce the divorce from God and well-being. Simply practice keeping your eyes to yourself and you won’t have to manage your neighbor’s sin on top of your own. God will bless you directly, and them indirectly with a new, more loving you.
Next week, we’ll look at Step 3.