Read Matthew 5.21-37
In this brief passage from Matthew, Jesus deals with tough issues that are still alive today. I want to focus on three: conflict within the community, sexual harassment, and commitment in relationships.
Jesus teaches his followers, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times. “You shall not murder,” and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you, “that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Jesus does not tune out the law. Instead, he turns up the volume. Not only is murder a crime for which one must pay, but so is anger that goes unresolved, insults that cause wounds, hurtful words that leave scars. All these forms of hatred and hate-filled behavior are sins for which we are called to repent.
Jesus continues his teaching, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Even if you don’t act on it, when you look at a woman as an object, you commit a sin. Jesus is creating a policy on sexual harassment. You can violate a person’s boundaries emotionally as well as physically. For people that want to say, “You can look, but not touch.” Jesus says, “It depends on what you see. If you see another human being, great. If you see some object of desire, you’ve reduced the person and yourself. You’ve sinned and you need to confess.”
Sexual harassment is a tough issue that requires a tough faith to work through. In my ministry, I have known survivors of sexual abuse who were abused by people they trusted the most – their fathers, their husband, their teachers, even their pastors. Abuse can take many forms and often both the abuser and the abused are trapped in a wicked cycle of silence. The abused feels guilty, as if it were his or her fault. The abuser may convince him or herself that he or she is acting out of love.
The truth is, whenever you reduce another to an object of sexual desire, you’ve sinned and both of you desperately need help and healing to confront the sin and discover the hope that lies beyond it. Jesus offers such a hope, but only as you are willing to confront the sin, to honestly and painfully rip it out and throw it away.
Finally, Jesus talks about commitment in relationships. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
The issue here is bigger than just divorce. In the days of Jesus, only men were allowed to divorce their wives. A man could meet someone he liked better and, rather than honor his marriage commitment, simply issue his wife a certificate of divorce which left her powerless, with no legal rights, no opportunity to work, to provide for herself or her children. Her only hope was to marry again and rely on her new husband.
Jesus looked at this and said, “This isn’t right.” A man should not have the power to pull the rug out from under his wife for no better reason than he’s found someone he likes being around more. Commitments mean more than that.
Jesus further illustrates this in the next saying, “I say to you, Do not swear at all. Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No.” Be true to your commitments to each other and don’t try to make excuses or find loopholes.
I must say that of all these harsh words, these ones on divorce sting the most for me. After much hardship and soul-searching struggle, I pursued this path and am now divorced. In many ways, I know this is sin, at least in regard to evidence of a fallen condition.
The good news is that you no longer have to pretend. You aren’t immune from sin and you aren’t expected to be. You can look honestly at failed relationships, at harassing or abusive behavior, at conflict that stands in the way of fellowship. You can deal with tough issues with the tough faith that God has given you in Jesus Christ. The healing hands that provide relief and deliverance are cut and calloused. Jesus knows what it feels like to hurt.
We have a tough faith to deal with tough issues. This gives us hope. No matter what we go through: the pain, the anger, the frustration – God has gone through it before in Jesus Christ. God goes through it again, with us, through the Holy Spirit. Nothing separates us from God’s love, no matter how tough.