The Sermon, part 8: Second Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:27-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You must not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 NLT)

  Here, once again, Jesus starts off by affirming the law, “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14 NLT). Before we go any further than the law itself, it is vital that people understand what is meant by adultery. Typically, adultery is defined in modern culture as being any extramarital, sexual realtionship. In other words, if someone is married and has sex with someone other than his or her spouse, that person is committing adultery. Thus, this Biblical law is often interpreted as meaning, “you must not have extramarital sex.”

While that understanding is not entirely incorrect, it is also lacking in what is fully meant by the term “adultery”. What’s more, without the fullest understanding of the term adultery, one misses the significance of Jesus’ antithesis to this Biblical law. I have heard some Christians, most famously Kirk Cameron, use Jesus’ antithesis to show that ALL humans are adulterers; however, that is not what Jesus is doing at all and such an understanding betrays a MISUNDERSTANDING of context and Biblical Law.

In the Torah, and in the ancient Jewish context, adultery (μοιχεύω, see Matthew 5:27) should not be confused with fornication ( πορνεία, see ). The latter is reference to any and all illicit sex outside of the marital covenant. Fornication is most definitely considered to be immoral, and those who commit adultery are fornicating (by definition); however, not all fornicators are committing adultery. Fornication does not equal adultery.

In ancient Jewish Law, adultery was the act of a man having sex with a woman married to another man. To do so was to strip the married man of his exclusive sexual right to his wife, as well as it was to deny him of the assurance that his children were his own. Thus, if a man (married or not) had sex with a woman married to another man), that act was considered to be adultery and both the man and the woman involved would be guilty of being adulterers. It was a crime punishable by death. Again, adultery hinges on the married woman. Thus, a married man having sex with an unmarried woman WOULD NOT be guilty of adultery. Conversely, and unmarried woman having sex with another man (married or not), WOULD NOT be guilty of committing adultery. They would considered immoral (which carried its own social consequences), but they would not be considered adulterers and necessarily subject to the penalty of death.

This law, obviously, comes out of a patriarchal society where a man has “rights” over a woman, but the woman does not have rights over the man. So a married man who has sex with another person is not guilty of committing adulter, whereas, a married woman fornicating with another person is. This may not sound like a just law to our twenty-first century ears; however, it is important to understand that law (without our own biased judgment upon it) in order to understand what Jesus does next.

Following affirming the law as it stands in the Torah, Jesus presents it’s antithesis (or it’s direct opposite). “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Notice what Jesus does here? He takes a patriarchal law and flips it on its proverbial head. Instead of it being focused on the woman (as the physical law is), Jesus focuses on the man who will face an eschatological (end time) judgment by God.

Again, Jesus affirms the Torah in that a woman or a man found to be adulterers will be subject to judgment (as a matter of fact in that ancient world); however, Jesus flips his command on men (as women were often considered to be the offenders in the ancient world). This is a remarkable and scandalous thing Jesus does here and, in doing so, he is letting men know that if they look at a married woman lustfully, they are guilty of committing adultery in their hearts (even though the woman is guilty of absolutely nothing).

To conclude, this antithesis should once again remind us that God is looking at our hearts. Are our hearts filled with love, or are we predators in our hearts? While humans can judge upon appearances, upon evidence, and upon circumstances, only God knows the hearts. It is the heart that God judges and none of us can hide our hearts from God. This dire reminder is not meant to scare us, but to humble us. This should give us a new understanding of Jesus’ words, which are to come a bit later in this sermon (Matthew 7:1-2). Let us avoid taking the judgment throne, which is God’s alone; rather, let us reconcile our own hearts with God so that we may be filled with mercy and righteousness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Love is not predatory.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume VIII, pg. 190).

PRAYER

Lord, remove judgment from my heart and fill it with contrition and love. Love is not predatory in judgment or in any other manner. Steer me from being predatory as well. Amen.

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