2-7-17 - Lust and Love

At St. Columba’s next week we will use a different set of lessons, chosen for our Annual Meeting Sunday. I will spend three days this week on the lectionary text from Matthew, and two on John 15. I predict we’ll be glad of the change!

Jimmy Carter caught a lot of flack back in 1976, when he confessed in an interview with Playboy magazine that, while he had remained faithful to his marriage vows, he had looked on women with lust and “committed adultery in my heart.” He was just quoting Jesus: “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.”

Here again, Jesus says that what we think and feel matters spiritually as much as our outward behavior does.

What's so bad about lust anyway? Isn't it just natural? Well, it depends on how you define it. As the church understands it, lust is not the same as a desire to be intimate with another person. It is a desire that objectifies another, that – here’s that word again – temporarily dehumanizes someone so s/he becomes a source of gratification and not a full person with his or her own story, gifts and needs.

Adultery is sexual or emotional intimacy with someone other than your committed partner. It need not always be defined by lust – in some ways, fully emotional relationships can be the more dangerous adulterous attachments. Why? Because they require one to break trust with another, and necessitate lying to loved ones, risking damage to whole families and communities. As natural as it may be to love more than one person intimately, Jesus upholds fidelity as a higher calling, one that builds up rather than tears down.

The remedy to adultery he proposes is harsh, suggesting we’re better off dismembered than being led by our physical appetites. I believe he exaggerates to make a point: We are best able to give and receive love, to know and be known, when our focus is on the love of God. If a person or thing becomes the source of what we think we need, be it sexual, emotional, or ego gratification, we turn away from the Source of love. We worship the object. Our culture places romantic and sexual love on a pedestal and devalues the difficult, day in, day out work of being real and generous in a committed relationship, letting yourself be fully known. Jesus wants his followers to love this way, to be nurtured in authentic relationships that model the love of God.

Today let’s inventory our relationships – the intimate ones, and the more distant ones. Is there anyone from whom you want something? Not necessarily lustfully – sometimes we want others to make us feel better about ourselves, or to keep us from being lonely or meet other needs.

Can you see that person apart from what they can do for you? Can you see him or her as a fellow child of God? Can you offer your desire or need in prayer, asking God how God would provide for you? Can you want something for him or her instead of from? That's a good place for prayer today.

Marriage does not represent the fullness of God’s revelation – but at its best it is an icon of God’s love, a transforming power that crosses boundaries of otherness to know and be known. That alone is reason to allow the Spirit to make us faithful, in our hearts as well as our bodies.

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