As a teen, I proposed that the guys shouldn’t be allowed to take off their shirts to play in the gym because that was as tempting as the short shorts and tank tops girls weren’t allowed to wear. Good for the goose; good for the gander.
Except that approach has a fundamental error. After twenty years of marriage, I know now more than ever that clothes have no substantive effect on lust; I can strongly desire my husband while he’s wearing a ratty t-shirt and sweatpants. His wearing a suit and a wedding band while typing a work email won’t necessarily silence a stranger’s flirtation. Nor will a suit I’m wearing. Church dresses don’t prevent unwelcome gazes either. As a youth, I didn’t realize that my breathing alone counts as feminine wiles to some people. I grew up thinking you not only could but should just cut sex out. Don’t do it or think about it. Until marriage. Turn desire off like a faucet.
I took this passage, if not literally, strongly. After you lust with your eyes, your hands are next; therefore, muzzle the mind, so the body isn’t harmed. Being an ice princess was better than getting burned.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows how following the letter of the law can still violate the spirit of the law. He ratchets up the standard for obedience. Adultery and lust are two forms of the same objectification, two ways of using another’s body to satisfy your own.
This mutilation cure, if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away (v. 30), is exaggerated, like turning the other cheek and throwing in a cloak. The spirit of the law recognizes the holy gift of your body and another’s so that your attraction or communion is a sacrament, not a sacrilege. That goes for married people and ice princesses too.
How do you address disordered desire in your own life? How do you revere others as holy gifts of God?
God, help us see each other with reverence, as you intend for us to do. Amen.