April 2, 2017: Chop Off What?

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Matthew 5:27-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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 for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

So, Jesus is hanging out in metro Jerusalem. After spending the early morning hours over at the Mount of Olives praying, he comes back across the Kidron Valley and enters the temple area. He sits down and begins to teach. A crowd gathers around him immediately.

As he’s teaching, a group of religious leaders break into his circle dragging a woman with them. She is terrified. More than likely, she is in someway disrobed, perhaps completely naked to shame her. The men who have forced her here let go of the woman in front of Jesus and in front of those who have come to hear him teach.

The crowd is taken aback, Jesus looks compassionately at the woman. Then, I am quite certain, with frustration and anger in his eyes, he looks at the men who brought her.

They were using this woman as a prop to trick Jesus. They say, loudly enough that everyone in the crowd can hear, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery. She was having sex with someone who was not her husband, and we caught her!”

Just an aside - how creepy are these guys as they look about through people’s windows hoping to catch a woman in the throes of passion.

Back to their words, “The Law says we should stone her to death for her actions. Jesus, What do you think we should do?”

They think they have Jesus trapped. Agree with the Law and all of a sudden, the “would be Messiah” appears to lack the compassion and grace that marks his ministry. Refute the Law, and all of a sudden, the “would be Messiah” loses his credibility as the One who comes in the name of the One who gave the Law in the first place.

Jesus will put these misogynistic thugs in their place and bring hope to this abused and shamed woman with his response. I would encourage you give it a read. John 8: 1 - 11. Its great stuff.

But the part of the story that interests me today is what is missing, or more precisely, who is missing from this event. These religious men brought this woman, caught in the very act of sex, to Jesus. Doesn’t that mean that they also caught the man in the very act of sex? Why did they just bring the woman to Jesus? Where is the adulterous man?

I have an idea. Its not in the story as told by John. I wonder if when the man and woman are caught having sex by what can only be described as the sex police, and the woman is dragged off as bait in a trap to trip up Jesus, the adulterous man is left there in that place, and after a few minutes he puts on his pants (or robe) and follows the mob as they go to Jesus. I see this man merging into the crowd, watching as Jesus responds to the woman and the religious thugs.

Perhaps he even shouts out “stone her,” and picks up a rock. I would like to think that when Jesus suggests that the person without sin throw the first stone, that he looks straight into the face of the man caught in adultery.

But back to the question, why was the woman brought before Jesus and the man was not?

The simple answer. In a male dominated, misogynistic culture, where women are considered inferior, second class citizens, where wealthy men as allowed multiple wives and numerous concubines or mistresses, where a bride is purchased for a cow and a couple of goats, where women are instructed to walk ten feet behind their husbands, what else could you expect?

The system is rigged to favor men. They have power, they make the rules, they run the culture.

Throughout history, women generally have paid for men’s wandering libidos. Sure, a man might be scolded or reprimanded for sexual activity outside of marriage, but a woman is shamed, ridiculed, devastated, and oh, by the way, can be legally stoned to death.

It is number 7 on the big list. On a Ten Commandments plaque, you will find “Thou shall not commit adultery” is number seven.

While the commandment and the consequences for breaking the commandment are the same for both men and women in the biblical text, real life works differently. The unwritten rules for men and women and sexual activity are very different.

It is fair to say that over time, the idea of adultery came to be understood primarily as a woman’s violation of the command and a woman’s point of shame. After all, men were allowed multiple wives and even a mistress or two. Thus, only the woman caught in adultery is dragged before Jesus.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares,“You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery.”

The men in the crowd nod and wink. Because they think the emphasis of this command is directed toward the women in the crowd. But Jesus does not let the command rest there. He continues, “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.”

Jesus is specifically talking to the men in the crowd at this point. This is not a generic, unisex statement. It is a sentence aimed squarely at the men. The verb used for the looker is masculine third person plural. And so the translation, “every man who looks” is right on. And the lookies are guna- the funny Greek word for woman. Jesus is saying to men- when you objectify a woman, when you think of her only as a sexual object, when you leer and ogle and be gross, you are as guilty as the adulterer! A shock wave ripples through the crowd.

Does Jesus assume only men have the problem of wandering eyes. Probably not, but he does know in a society where men set the rules and that men are the ones who have created the sex loopholes themselves.

Jesus continues to speak, “And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into Gehenna.”

Yikes. Chop off what? For why? These hyperbolic words of Jesus are not meant to be interpreted literally (but who knows how many people have damaged themselves physically throughout history because they took these words seriously.)

And these words are meant to be serious, just not to be understood literally.

Bottom line- The day of loopholes that give you the advantage over others is over, Jesus is saying. Don’t expect others to act in one way if you are not able to act that way yourself. It is a constant complaint Jesus has toward the religious elite of his day. Hypocrisy!

At the core of this passage in the Sermon on the Mount, it seems to me, is the idea of respect. One responsibility in all our dealings, with men or with women or with children or with folks with different pigmentation or folks from other countries or folks who practice a different religion is respect.

We don’t objectify.
We don’t prejudge.
We don't rank.
We don’t diminish.
We don't speak malice.
We don't make inappropriate or demeaning remarks.
We don’t stereotype.

We respect every person we encounter and treat them the way we want to be treated.

Pretty simple, huh.

Amen.


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