Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anger, Adultery, Divorce - What was Jesus talking about?

Ok, back to our Thursday journey through the (chronological) Gospels, learning about Jesus FROM Jesus, and outside of what calls itself "Christianity" has spent 2,000 years remaking Him into!

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here.

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the translation version on this scripture page as suits you. I default to the NASB to get the more literal translation, but do use the one that works for you).

This week we're still in the "Sermon on the Mount". Last week Jesus introduced us to this "Sermon" by pointing out how different God's intentions for blessings and reward are from what we're taught to expect (especially as we're taught by Good Religious People). And we learned from Jesus that unless our hearts and lives are better than what all those good church-goers and Bible-memorizers and seminary-graduates accomplish, we're not going to get any better reward than they will – meaning we won't get into heaven at all! Do check out His intro, if you missed it last week. It will help get you set up for this week and the weeks to come.

Ok – Jesus jumps right in with contrasts, and begins telling us how we need to be different from Good Religious People if we truly want God to count us as among His (real) people. Couple of things to note before we start:
  • Don't forget as we go through the rest of His "Sermon" - even if your Bible makes it appear there's a break here somewhere, there really was not: Jesus just talked about how our God-following needs to be different from the false "God"-following that Good Religious People do, and now He's going to start telling us how different that must be,
  • As we go through these teachings, pay close attention! Don't write these things off or "explain" or "theologize" them away as Good Religious People most often do – doing so leaves us just as anti-Christ and smeared with religious dung as they are. But also don't fall into the opposite ditch, wallowing in religious shame and fear, wasting energy in fear when God wants you up and moving along. We all fall short of these things – but Jesus is offering here a new start, an offer of God's better way for our lives. Once again, He's not offering condemnation, but liberation from the world's way of injecting hell into our daily lives and calling it "normal" and even "godly". Wash the religion out of your ears and hear Jesus new all over again!
So, Jesus starts off talking about anger and disputes, saying:
It's been taught forever that if you murder someone, God will judge you. But I'm telling you God will judge you even if you just get angry at someone.  
 It's said that if you call someone empty-headed you're subject to Good Religious Authority. But I'm telling you that calling someone a fool means you're in danger of burning in hell.  
Therefore, if someone has a problem with you don't show up doing your religious duties before God before you've made things right with this other person. Don't let this problem keep going and going until finally you're standing before God Himself to answer for it.
Except for those who (either by birth or by culture or by profession) are sociopathic, it takes anger to get to murder, doesn't it? When we consider that, and also consider how through so much of the Old Testament God said over and over again that it's what comes out of our hearts that makes what we do actually His way or not His way (no matter how "religious" or "godly" we want it to look), what does it mean, then, that God doesn't even want us to get angry at people?

Sometimes when trying to avoid the Good Religious Trap of pretending to be "godly" while also being a jerk, we can fall into the ditch on the other side of the road and make a NEW Good Religious Trap by telling ourselves we can NEVER EVER get angry, or that if we do we're earning hell. But we know from other parts of the Bible that anger itself isn't always wrong (for example, when someone got angry at those calling themselves "God's People" while oppressing others - that wasn't wrong). The Bible lets us know that even God gets angry (and that would make sense, since we're made in God's image). We've even seen Jesus get angry in the parts of the Gospels we've already covered (when He was being confronted by the evil hypocrisy of Good Religious People). Which means that once again if we just take a face-value look at what Jesus is saying, we're going to get it wrong. That being the case, consider what He's said in the whole context (including even His "intro", starting back at Matthew 5:1), and come up with what His meaning is here. What does Jesus want you to understand about anger, disputes, hurting others, and God's place in all of that, in your life? What part of your heart or life needs to change?

Jesus then said:
You've been taught not to have sex with another person when you're married. But I'm telling you that even just checking someone out is the same as having sex with them – in your heart. Get rid of the things that lead you to doing wrong, even if it hurts or costs you. It's better to lose that little thing than to end up in hell.
Using Jesus' standard, our modern culture – and a great part of our economy – in the western world absolutely runs on the "eye-candy" and sexual obsession that God calls "adultery" (and more). And to get away from it and the constant temptation to examine others through the lens of (and therefore misuse) our sexual drives, we have to take active steps. Depending on who we are and what our personal temptations may be, sometimes that means not watching certain (or even any) television programs, movies, or stars. Sometimes it means changing the kinds of things we read. Sometimes it means we have to avoid being around certain people in our local lives. And sometimes it means we need to give ourselves a real solid kick in the spiritual butt so we stop screwing around with thinking it's ok to screw around. None of these things are "fun", and in some cases they can make us look "weird" to others who still want to enjoy letting the media and their own sin-nature run their sexuality on a slow burn (and more) most of the week. Yet Jesus tells us it's better to deal today with getting rid of some stupid physical or emotional impulse that's causing us to ignore and work against God's way than to deal later with the huge consequences of having kept our heart on a path to hell. Are there things you need to get rid of or do differently, to get the adultery out of your heart and life so there's room for Jesus there, instead? What keeps you from getting rid of those things right now, today?

Nowhere in this did Jesus say that sex itself was wrong or shameful – though that's how many Good Religious People interpret it. Jesus just said we need to keep our sexual nature – and the heart that runs it – within bounds that keep us from causing harm to ourselves and others (and therefore keeps us from harming our relationship with God, as well). What ways have you been taught to interpret this scripture as meaning your own sexual feelings are wrong? How do you need to understand them differently, in light of what Jesus actually said?

In past centuries, some Good Religious People took this scripture literally, and actually cut out their own eyes or sex organs so they wouldn't sin – or so they thought. Earlier in our Gospel study we already heard Jesus say that God prefers that people break His religious laws to take care of their physical bodies' needs, if that's what it takes. Does it even make sense, then, to say that God wants us to actually harm our physical bodies in some way? Did those who took these scriptures literally even understand what Jesus said – that it's what's in your heart that determines what happens in your life and body? After all, even a married person without eyes or sex organs can still imagine someone else lustfully or want to sleep with them – and that's exactly what Jesus said is just as adulterous as actually having sex outside of marriage. So did these Good Religious People who mutilated themselves actually accomplish anything at all? If others admired them for their extra "devotion", did they actually admire something God is actually impressed with?

Jesus then said: 
You've been taught that it's ok to divorce, as long as you go through the correct legal channels. But I'm telling you that unless your spouse is whoring around on you, divorcing him/her makes him/her and you an adulterer. It also makes anyone who marries your ex-spouse an adulterer.

It was common among the men Jesus was speaking to here 2,000 years ago to divorce any wife that got too "old" for their tastes, or who didn't quietly put up with their crap, or who just didn't make them happy in some other way (women in that place and time weren't allowed to do the same to their husbands). What that meant, though, was that even though these men had made a covenant with another person before God, they were trashing that covenant whenever it suited their egos or their lusts – and God does NOT like covenant breaking for any reason (read about the nation of Israel and its covenant breaking in the Old Testament, if you'd like to confirm that). Their divorces produced even more harm, though, because in that place and time if a woman didn't have her birth family to move back in with, she would end up living on the streets – and then she'd have to beg and probably prostitute herself to stay alive. But another thing we learn through the Old Testament (when we stop reading it with Good Religious People's eyes, that is) is God's unrelenting command that His people take care of and not exploit or oppress those who are weaker in some way or another – and that included women. So Jesus was telling the men in the crowd that day (and all of us since) that God counts our covenants still active even when we do not, and God expects us to take care of the people we promised to take care of - even if we don't feel like doing so anymore. How is our modern culture, with its easy-divorce and almost pathological self-interest, the same as the culture Jesus was speaking to? How is it different? Jesus taught nothing to others that we shouldn't also learn from. What should we today learn from what Jesus taught? How should your own life and heart change?

Some final things to consider this week: 
  • With what you've seen of Jesus in our Gospel study even so far, and how you've seen His (and therefore God's) thoughts about and actions toward both "good" and "bad" people, who do you think God condemned: the wife 2,000 years ago who was "divorced" by her husband and had to prostitute herself to buy food and shelter, or the husband who divorced her legally, kept all God's written laws, and performed all the required worship activities? Whose prayers do you think God heard? Who do you think ended up in heaven?
  • In all you've read today, what is the biggest thing that Good Religious People back then and even today get most wrong or miss most? 
  • What changes can you make starting right now in how you view yourself, others, the world, and God to make sure that you are doing what Jesus said by being better than Good Religious People – so you are actually a real follower of Jesus Christ, and not just another pretender?

Next week we'll continue our journey through the "Sermon on the Mount", and through the chronological Gospels. See you then!

This article written by Lynne at You can contact Lynne at