Advent Day 12 of 50: Control
Yesterday we discovered that Jesus’ teaching about adultery is about fidelity in the context of a broader demand for sincerity. Jesus separates action from thought – what we may refer to as premeditation – the thoughts that lead to actions. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus continues, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
Jesus uses hyperbole, for sure, in an attempt to draw attention to the difficulty of disciplining the senses. As we learned in the preamble to the Sermon on the Mount, that is, in the Beatitudes, harnessing our power is essential to spiritual growth. The struggle between the physical and spiritual life is ever present and Jesus refers to this duality throughout his ministry. Most glaringly in the Garden of Gethsemane, he challenges the disciples to stay awake with him as he prays, but he also knows the physical weakness they will succumb to and identifies it as, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
The teaching on adultery, is an invitation to take control of our most innate and powerful physical urges. It is a call to open ourselves to the honesty and control of our expression and to the limits of our physical abilities. The sin is not the physical act alone, but the lust that draws us to the physical act. Herein is the challenge to rise and ascend to the spiritual realm, where lust is controlled to prevent the sinful act. In honesty and control we find purity. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
We pray today from the 8th hour of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s prayer, O Searcher of secrets, I have sinned against you, willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly. Grant me forgiveness for since my birth from the baptism font to this day, I have sinned before you Lord, with all my senses and with all the members of my body. Have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen.