Daily Office Readings – Gospel ( Matthew 5:27-37 )
As soon as I started reading this Gospel this morning, my mind went back too several youth leaders and pastors I’ve known, and I started hearing the voices of these leaders telling the old familiar comments (some jokes) that come with this passage.
The comments always start off with someone lusting after a woman, then progresses to “If your eye causes you to sin,” and then “If your right hand causes you to sin,” and then ends up with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know-what-I-mean?
Jesus is obviously well versed in male tendencies and while maybe it’s funny to point out this progression of actions related to lust, Jesus is obviously exaggerating to make a point. No one would really pluck out an eye or chop off a hand merely for having lusted after a woman. If you fail to examine your own actions, something as simple as appreciating another person’s beauty can, through repeat occurrences, turn into a dissolution of relationship. If you’re married, that might mean your heart turns away from your spouse, and turns to another, ending in the divorce that Jesus mentions in vs. 28 & 32. And for both single and married, it can mean widening of the gap between ourselves and God because we have made someone else the focus of our adoration.
All of which just goes to say that Jesus really wants us to get past the idea of looking at this idea of a black and white concept that constitutes sin: did we have one too many vodka tonics (is one OK, but 5 a sin?), did we curse, did our gaze linger too long on the woman in the red dress? If we focus on where the line is – for whatever sin – and when, or if, we crossed the line, then our lives will be argued in technicalities; they will be argued not by our intentions, but by whether we actually stepped over the line. And a life lived in the technicalities is one that is lived from a defensive, reactionary posture, rather than out of abundance.
Jesus wants us to examine our intentions, so that we know where our actions are pulling us, and where our actions will eventually lead us. He wants us to never get to the edge of the line, wondering whether to step over it or not. If we examine our intentions, our motivations, then our likelihood of approaching that moment of ethical conflict can be avoided.
The problem is that most often, we don’t examine our intentions. In fact, we often don’t even realize there is a problem until we come up to the line and wonder “How the hell did I get into this situation?”
Many evangelical Christians handle situations like this by entering into “Accountability Groups” and many Roman Catholics handle situations like this by weekly confession, because both of these activities allow them to examine their intentions while simultaneously bringing others into their struggles.
When I was a pastor- in another denomination – of a small parish in Washington state, I routinely used pages 447-452 of the BCP: “Reconciliation of a Penitent,” or Confession, as it is usually called, both with people in the church, and with those whom I had met outside the church.
The Episcopal or Anglican stance toward confession is: “All may, none must, but some should.” What I’ve discovered is that, in practice, this generally translates into none do. For most Episcopalians, it seems, the concept of confession is simply too Catholic, and the idea of an accountability group is too Promise Keepers.
Whether we take advantage of formal confession, whether we meet with others, whether we find a spiritual director, or whether we just spend more time examining our intentions for all the activities we routinely engage in, the question should never be “Where is the line,” or “Did I cross the line.” The question should be, why am I behaving the way I am, and where are my actions pulling me? If we can answer those questions, then we will more likely be able to “carry out the vows we have made to the Lord.”