The great prophet Elijah burns with zeal for the Lord. Unfortunately, his zeal is mixed with a good deal of anger. The Lord doesn’t directly reprove or punish Elijah for his excessive anger, but with the teaching about the “still small voice,” and the Lord’s question, “Elijah, why are you here?” we can understand that Elijah has not yet completed his inner-journey. The Lord instructs him to return and prepare the next generation of leadership, it is time for Elijah to think about what comes next and bring new purpose to why he is here.
Jesus gives us a clear teaching about the dangers of anger and lust in today’s Gospel. We cannot turn them off, so if we begin to believe that we don’t have a problem with them they will get the better of us. It takes an entire human life to learn to prefer love and forgiveness to anger. It takes an entire human life to learn how not to use other people for our own selfish ends or pleasure. Part of the process involves developing the ability to recognize that anger and lust are connected to more things than acts of violence and sex. The interior lustful and angry thoughts and attitudes we have, self-justifications, sensuality, etc., damage our soul and its relationship with God even more than the external actions would damage our self-image and reputation. Our hidden complicity with anger and lust are far more dangerous that we are ready to admit. The time between temptation and consent is only a heart-beat, and one who habitually gives their inward consent prepares themselves to commit the outward deeds they thought they could keep hidden in their mind and heart.
The good news is that Jesus Christ brings His strength of victory to bear on our weakness when we face temptation. It is up to us, with the help of His grace, to recognize and reject temptation quickly and firmly in His Holy Name.
For he did not simply say “whoever shall desire,” since it is possible for one to desire even when sitting alone in the mountains. Rather, Jesus said, “whoever looks with lust,” that is, one who thinks about another solely for the purpose of lusting, who, under no compulsion, allows the wild beast to intrude upon his thoughts when they are calm. This intrusion no longer comes from nature but from self-indulgence. The ancient Scripture corrects this from the first, saying, “Don’t gaze upon another’s beauty.” And then, so that no one should say, if I gaze but am not taken captive, he punishes the look, lest through a false security you should some time fall into sin. “What then,” one may say, “if I should look, and desire indeed, but do no evil?” Even so you find your place among the adulterers. For the Lawgiver has pronounced it, and you must not question further. For when you look once, twice or three times, you will perhaps have power to refrain; but if you make this your habitual practice, kindling the furnace within you, you will assuredly be overcome. Your human nature is no different from that of other people.1
Because adultery is a serious sin and in order to uproot it, lest our conscience be defiled, he forbade even lust, which is the fuel of adultery. According to the words of blessed James in his epistle, “Lust when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” The Holy Spirit speaks concerning this to David: “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.” The symbolism here is that the blessed and truly evangelical person roots out the desires and lust of the flesh arising from human weakness. He does this immediately before they grow, at the onset, through faith in Christ who has been described as a rock.2
Those who care little for their souls do not look sufficiently into their hearts. They do not consider it a sin to get angry with their neighbors without cause and do not think it a sin to lust after a woman who belongs to another provided they do not follow up their lust. But it is a great sin among those who fear God and hold their hearts in high regard. And it is a great sin before God, who looks not only at one’s actions but also at one’s heart. With the inwardness of this commandment the law is not abolished but fulfilled, and without it the Lord’s commandment would be untenable.3
But since the body has been mentioned, this can be understood more properly of the body of the church. In this body the eye, like a precious member, is recognized as the bishop who enlightens the entire body by the light of a divine commandment. The passage properly applies here: “If your right eye is an occasion of sin to you, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is better for you that one of your members should perish than your whole body should be thrown into hell.” Hence, if this type of eye—symbolizing an unworthy bishop—through his disreputable faith and base dealings becomes a scandal to the church, Christ advises that he be plucked out, lest the people be held accountable for his sins.
For it is written that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” And again: “Keep yourself from every kind of evil.” The hand is understood to signify a priest who, because of his disreputable faith or life, becomes a scandal to God’s people. The Lord orders that he be cut away, that is, removed, lest the church become defiled by his sin. For the church, according to the apostle, ought to be holy and spotless.4
Let the right hand therefore be understood as a beloved helper and minister in divine works. For, just as contemplation is properly represented by the word eye, so action is rightly represented by the word hand. In this way, the left hand signifies the works that are necessary for this life and body.5
For if he who gets angry with his brother without cause is liable to judgment, how will that person not be liable who, without the sin of fornication, so hates his wife that he puts her away? But you say, “My wife has a lot of faults.” So what? Are you without fault? If we must bear the weaknesses of strangers according to the apostle, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ,”25 how much more must we bear those of wives? If a man looks with lust at a woman, he commits adultery with her in his heart. How will that person not be held to account for adultery who puts away his wife and gives her occasion to commit adulteries, so that she too commits adultery with another and he with her? For a Christian must both remain undefiled and not give others an occasion to defile themselves. Otherwise their wrongdoing redounds to the sin of him who becomes the cause of sin for others.6
THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA:
He has mixed his statement about divorce with one concerning fornication, for men who turn away from their own spouses out of a desire for intercourse with other women have committed adultery. The same applies to women. Thus he does not allow the divorced woman to remarry. The man she lives with must pay the penalties of an adulterer. For even if, to all appearances, she is separated from her husband, in spiritual reality she remains his body. At the beginning, she was joined and fitted by God to her husband as “one flesh.” For the same reason, neither is the man able to marry another woman.7
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 17.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 23.1.6–7. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 109). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 12. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 109). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 23.3.1–2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 111). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON ON THE MOUNT 1.13.38. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 111). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 12. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 112). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 33. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 113). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.