The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 16, 2020 (Matthew 5:21-37)
Man’s fallenness began with and now continues with sinful desire. Even before they grabbed the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve sinned with their desire to have it. Such sinful desire is often called coveting, which can be defined as a longing for something that over-rides the longing for God and His ways. Such desire then displaces God, and is the very foundation of sin. No wonder the Rabbis of Jesus’ day equated coveting with idolatry. St. Paul thus wrote: Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead…to covetousness, which amounts to idolatry (Col. 3:5). The self-righteous Pharisee named Saul thus came to realize his sinfulness by recognizing his covetous heart (Rom. 7:7).
In Sunday’s Gospel the designer of the world warned:…everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (v. 28). Sexual coveting is sin. Fighting this warning people are prone to ask, “What is so wrong with lusting after a woman (or man)?” Or they might ask, “Why is adultery so bad?” Simply put, the world’s designer wants to protect families. He wants to uniquely protect children. He wants to protect the holy institution of marriage, partly because it is a constant biblical illustration of His relationship to His people. God wants to protect what even pagan Greek philosophers realized, that faithful marriage between a man and a woman is foundational to culture and government.
There are other reasons why sexual coveting is clearly wrong and hurtful, but one reason it is wrong is that it harms the person doing such lusting. It is likely that our Lord’s warning about sexual coveting hits the majority of adults with the guilt caused by the law. However, as is the case with most every sin, sexual coveting can become addictive. And those Christians caught in such addiction bear an extreme weight of guilt. This heavy weight is common in our current society.
Such lust often finds expression in today’s addiction to pornography. Many, certainly some who are baptized children of God, are caught in this web of pornography. The following web-related statistics are from Dr. Thad Polk who has studied the horrible results of addiction—uniquely pornography—on the human brain. (Dr. Polk is an LCMS Christian, professor at U of M): 70% of all pay-per-view expenditure on the internet is for pornography; 13% of web searches are for erotic content. Other statistics show that today’s pornographic addiction extends into members of Christian churches. Dr. Polk has shown that this addiction actually “restructures” the brain and has many negative effects on the porn addict, such as dissatisfaction with one’s sexual life, movement toward divorce, a negative view toward God’s institution of marriage and towards one’s wife, a perception that a woman is an object to be used, and a preoccupation with pornography that consumes his relationships, his money, his work and other important parts of his life. [Information is from Dr. Polk’s presentation to the COP, 2/2020]
Because some in the secular world recognize the harm done by pornography, they have developed various methods for reversing such addiction. These methods can be employed effectively. We as the Christian Church however have the ultimate means for dealing with addiction to pornography. Our means is drawn from the cross of Jesus. Such sinners (including the majority of people who are not addicts but are yet convicted by the law) are privileged to confess their sin and receive absolution, that is forgiveness. This forgiveness is given by a specific public or private absolution, but it is also given in the reception of the body and blood of Jesus in the Supper. In this powerful forgiveness of Christ—necessarily applied again and again to a recovering addict—the Christian is able to begin anew and be strengthened to struggle against this evil. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.