Do you remember when President Jimmy Carter admitted publicly he had once lusted in his heart as he looked at a woman other than his wife Rosalyn? The media was all over this statement.
All of America snickered at his humble confession. That’s what it was, a confession of an honest, God fearing man, familiar with scripture. A deeply religious man who held the highest office of this nation, a world leader.
President Carter knew in his heart that he had failed, in that lustful moment, to follow the letter of God’s law. He also knew that actions, such as the one to which he confessed, threatened and broke his most valued covenant with his life partner, soul mate and beloved Rosalyn.
The awareness must have made an impression on Carter. That’s why he told on himself publicly. The world laughed. Such integrity and humility made everyone uncomfortable.
In the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 5:21-37), the scriptures that follow the Sermon on the Mount enumerate what we might call technicalities that go much further than the commandments. Scholars agree Jesus is engaging in hyperbole to make a larger point.
He doesn’t mean to literally gouge out an eye or cut off a hand. He is saying essentially: Don’t be like the phony Pharisees and other hypocritical pillars of our religious community. If things are not right between you and your sisters and brothers, drop your offering at the doorstep of the synagogue and go mend the relationship.
Being on good terms with your neighbor or family members is more important than showing up with a big donation. You can’t bribe God.
In Jesus’ eyes it is not enough to avoid committing murder. One must guard against anger, insults, name calling and the like, because these behaviors, like lusting in one’s heart, chip away at the integrity of the soul and erode the most primary relations with self, neighbor and the
One who has created us in the first place. Jesus knows how easy it is for humans to fall short. Stuff happens. We lose our cool with our best friends, our dearest loved ones. And yes, we lust in our hearts.
He’s making a big point that cutting off an arm is preferable to the sin of violating a trust through thoughtless behavior. He wants us to be more conscious of our thoughts and actions. God wants us to be in relationship with God, and on good terms with each other.
It’s not easy, but it’s as simple as making a choice to try. As one of my friends says, “ Would you rather be right? Or would you rather be in relationship?”
God gives us choices and then waits to see what we do. Moses in Deuteronomy 30:19 tries to set the Israelites straight on right relationship with God by reminding them they owe their lives to a faithful God who has always been with them, carried them through rough times and is about to deliver them to the promised land. “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life!”
It’s not meant to be torture. My mother used to say, “Straighten up and fly right.” Pretty simple. The very nature of God is goodness, generosity and love. God’s will for us is to know we are loved.
Let’s face it most of us are children only God can love. If we can remember we are loved, maybe we can remember to love others.
Rev. Patricia Stout is active in the Delaware Ministerial Association and is pastor of Iberia Presbyterian Church in Iberia.