June 27, 2013

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)


Maintaining the highest standards of sexual morality was one of the distinguishing features of both Judaism and early Christianity. This was especially noticeable and demanding in an age when sexual license was normal, accepted and very public. The teaching of Jesus, as in today’s gospel, emphasizes that morality is not just about keeping to external laws, but extends to what is going on in our hearts. And therefore keeping watch over our hearts has become the bedrock of Orthodox spiritual life.

Our contemporary North American culture is also sex-obsessed and for that reason alone Christians will find themselves mocked and on its margins if they profess a standard of morality at odds with the world. Yet there is also a danger that Christians themselves will unwittingly adopt the world’s scale of values by making sexual matters the dominant topic, far above all other aspects of behavior and ignoring other basic ways Christians should think, speak and act.

There is no denying the weight that the early church gave to sexual morality. But sexual sins were seen as part of a much wider disease. Consider today’s reading from Romans and Paul’s description of how the “debased” behave:

…being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful…

Paul mentions some twenty ways of turning from God’s path, and sexual immorality is only one of them. Before turning aggressively on sexual sins and sinners we would do well to keep this perspective and purify our hearts with humility and mercy. As Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).