Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Faithfulness is one of God’s gifts to us, and faithfulness in relationships is a gift we give each other. In Jesus’ commentary on the commandment “You shall not commit adultery,” he broadens the scope of adultery to include even sexual fantasies such as looking at another with lust.
Then–presidential candidate Jimmy Carter raised eyebrows in a 1976 interview published in Playboy magazine. He was quoted saying, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” As you can imagine, press and pundits got plenty of mileage from that “confession.”
Jesus’ hyperbole about tearing out your right eye and cutting off your right hand reveals how few true biblical literalists there actually are. But the epiphany here is the dire seriousness with which Jesus views our sins and moral failings. Instead of excusing or minimizing whatever wrongs we have done, Jesus forever sequesters them in himself and offers a pardon costly to him, yet full and free for you and me.
Jesus, today is a day on which many will express love with tokens like flowers and chocolates. Let our love become more like yours: like you, help us give ourselves faithfully to one another. Amen.