Friday, June 12, 2009

Battling with Lust

First Reading: 2 Cor 4:7-15
Psalm: Ps 116:10-11, 15-18 -- To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise
Gospel: Mt 5:27-32

But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. - Matthew 5:27


In today's gospel reading, we hear Jesus' second and third clarifications on the Mosaic law. I hear from many people (especially from Christians) that this is among the hardest of Jesus' teachings. Some claim that it is impossible, and forgive themselves on that account. Others take it without question and do their best to impose that understanding on those around them.

The Puritans sought to weed out the problem of lust from their society. Anyone caught in a sexual sin was punished severely, including death for adulterers (no doubt they believed that it was better to lose one's head than to have one's entire body thrown into Gehenna). They attempted to use law and fear as a means to prevent sin. Despite their best efforts, they could not stamp out sexual sins.

In our culture, it is nearly impossible to go a day without being encouraged to look lustfully at another person. Television is packed with shows and commercials that sell themselves using the easiest attention-drawing technique available. Yet, even in the time of Christ, this must have been something very difficult, or Jesus would not emphasize on it. It is not simply a problem within our culture, it is a problem within our fallen human nature. Hence, we cannot fight it with laws; we must fight it with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

As Christians, we must remember not to be too light on ourselves, but not too hard either. When a co-worker asked about Mt 5:27, I commented that he was being a little too hard on himself. Together, we looked up approved interpretations. After about 45 minutes of research, we concluded that the most common interpretation, including for Catholics, is that we are not guilty of lust for noticing the beauty of a woman. God created beautiful things, including beautiful people and also gave us the ability to appreciate that beauty. However, we are guilty of lust if we are anticipating our reaction to that beauty, treating people as a means for our own pleasure. In other words, if we are deliberately "noticing" their appearance, then lust is beginning in us. Or, if you prefer Billy Graham's view: "the first look is free; after that we're accountable."

Finally, Jesus tells us: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna" (Mt 5:29). We are tempted to think this somewhat extreme, but it is important to recognize the lesson in it. Our eyes do not (generally) cause us to sin, but the things we see with them might. Our television, for example. Are we really prepared to give up TV, or the internet, if we cannot keep ourselves from using them to sin? Let us pray that we are.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of this day. Thank you for your promise to never give us more than we can endure. Help us, Lord; save us from temptation. Send your angels to guide us as we continue our walk to your glorious presence. Grant us also the wisdom to know when to flee in order to protect ourselves from sin. We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment