I have to own up that lust is not something I have ever thought very much about. It’s not talked about much in polite circles. It seemed to me to be odd that the passing awareness that someone was ‘easy on the eye’ was a cardinal sin. I was dimly aware that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it is a problem – although not so much for straight women.
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5 v 28.
I found myself wrestling with this verse last week after agreeing to preach on the 7th commandment at a family-friendly evening service at St Peter’s. I really should know my Bible better. I wished I had realised as the rota was being prepared that the seventh commandment is about adultery. Maybe I would have found something else to do that evening.
So how to make adultery all age relevant? We got to a good start with them main reading which was the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel Chapter 11. Studying that reading and thinking how David displeased the Lord I saw a pattern emerging that made me wonder if lust had been misunderstood.
If you read the chapter you will see that David regards everyone in it, women, men and children, as objects that can meet his needs. Bathsheba is there for him to sleep with, he then tries to manipulate her husband Uriah to cover up his wrongdoing, Joab his commander is used for David’s ends, he even attempts to manipulate the identity of the unborn baby in the story. “And the Lord was displeased by what David had done.” v 27.
So in our service we talked about the difference between people and things. It might seem obvious that people are not things and things are not people but it seems too easy for us to turn people into things for our own use. And perhaps that is what it means to look at someone lustfully. We stop seeing in them in their entirety, created by God, with their own will, desires, conscience and soul and we start regarding them as something that will do something for us. Something that will make us feel better, make us look good, earn us money or get us out of trouble.
This attitude lies at the root of some of the besetting evils we see today. A few weeks ago there was a horrific picture circulating on the internet of the bodies of a woman and child tossed into the sea having had their organs removed by traffickers. I can’t get the image of the crude stitching across their torsos out of my mind. The humanity of these people had been completely disregarded – it is a picture that makes me want to weep.
We know it happens. It happens when people are trafficked, when children are exploited, when frail elderly people are abused and when women are raped. It happens particularly in wars. It happens when people misuse their power over other people. It happens when groups of people are constantly vilified and demonised in public discourse.
But it can also happen in ways that are less easy to spot and in ways that make us realise that we ourselves are not without sin. I do not know who made my clothes yet it is likely that someone was exploited in their making. That person’s life is diminished for my convenience. We have all seen children suddenly being friends with the child who is having a party or as parents we have felt frustrated when our children have ‘shown us up’ simply by being children.
Driving to church today, preparing to deacon at the Eucharist, it dawned on me that while sin turns beings into objects, for us the sacrament of communion turns objects into beings. In one of the versions of the prayer of consecration, used at St Peter’s on a Wednesday, the bread and wine are referred to as ‘thy creatures.’
Love too carries the same power. My parents told me a beautiful story last week about going on retreat together. If you know them, you can imagine them telling this story over the phone, both chipping in from different receivers.
They told me that they had just come back from a retreat – the first one they had been on together for more than 50 years. When they had gone on retreat in the early days of their marriage it had been a disaster. My mum had sat on her top bunk reading her Good Housekeeping magazines while my dad had joined in the prayers and study of the retreat. By the end he was furious that she wouldn’t join in as fully as he expected her to while she felt she needed a good rest and didn’t see why she couldn’t take time out in her way. They agreed they would not go on retreat again together.
This time it had been different. Fortunately they didn’t have bunks! But Mum still has Good Housekeeping and again she took the time to read and sleep. So nothing has changed my Mum admitted cheerfully. But then Dad added: “Well it has, because I didn’t mind a bit this time.”
Over the 50 years my parents love for each other has deepened to the point where they no longer see each other in any way as objects to meet their own needs. Now they are two human beings who are delighted when they see the other flourishing.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber talked about having an I-it and and I-thou relationships. I-it treats the other as an object, I-thou treats the other as a sacred human being. Some people bury their humanity so deeply it is hard not to regard them with a closed I-it gaze. But Jesus on the cross remains in an I-thou relationship even with those who are killing him. He prays for their forgiveness even as he breathes his last breath. He sees their humanity despite their brutality. Last night a Christian from Mosul told us how she had returned to Iraq and one-mile from the ISIS front-line she had prayed for the people who were destroying her country and persecuting her people.
Today’s set reading for Anglican churches, from John’s Gospel reminded us that we are called to love one another as Jesus loves us. If we really love one another, the world will see something different.I believe Jesus holds the whole of creation in an I-thou gaze. That might sound easy but just try for a day to recognise, respond to and acknowledge the humanity of everyone who crosses your path – I think your day might look quite different. And next time you appreciate, without objectifying, a fine specimen of God’s creation – I don’t think you need to feel guilty.
Apologies for the lack of photo with this blog…not sure what was appropriate!!!