You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
My father-in-law was one of the most fun, outgoing men one could ever meet. He was also one of the wisest persons I have known, and an avid reader and history buff, which provided us with unlimited topics of conversation whenever we were together. One time, when we were talking about how to choose from the abundance of movies and books competing for attention, he said, “I’ve always gone by the old adage, ‘I am a part of all that I have seen.’ ” (which I later discovered was an adaptation of a line in a Tennyson poem) I remember being puzzled at the time, but since have realized the truth in his comment. The things that we see and read do become a part of us in one way or another. I’ve been reminded of that truth again recently, because during this time of forced confinement, so many of us turn to the television for relief. We binge on seasons of The Crown, Downton Abbey, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and others, most certainly all of Ken Burns’ documentaries. But as I am surfing Netflix in hopes of finding my next binge, I remember the words, “I am a part of all that I have seen.”
With that thought still hovering, I will admit that a lot of my television time has been spent in re-watching some of my favorite movies. One of those, Casablanca, has one of the greatest scenes in all of cinema, performed by two of Hollywood’s best actors, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. The scene comes at the end of the movie when Bogie turns to his love and says: “Ilsa, you’re getting on that plane with Victor. That’s where you belong. Inside of us we both know that you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life . . .I’ve got a job to do too and where I’m going you can’t follow, and what I’ve got to do, you can’t be part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”
Casablanca’s ending is one of the most meaningful scenes in all of cinema. What’s more, I think it gets at what Jesus is saying in his words to us today, his elaboration on the commandment that pertains to adultery, but also, even more broadly, to all that competes for our time, attention, and devotion. At first blush, the words seem rather harsh, so direct as to convict us for even the slightest indiscretion. But I think the words are meant to remind us of our callings, that God has called us to something bigger and grander than ourselves.
Today, I want to pay careful attention to this command, because the idea of our greater calling is so relevant for this day and time. Christ’s words here have power; his saying is like a locomotive gaining speed and momentum: “But I say to you, every man who is staring at a woman in order to lust after her…” The specific verb’s grammatical impact here is very important to the understanding of the entire command, because it is the present participle, a continual action. Thus, it is not just a look; but a willful, sustained looking. And once again my father-in-law’s concept rings true, “I am a part of all that I have chosen to see.”
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- When, and if, you find discretionary time right now, what are the choices you find yourself making for yourself and those with you? What might the opportunities offered in television, internet, and the actual printed page do to inspire us to our higher callings?
- Scholars and sociologists tell us that global events such as the one we’re all enduring cause major cultural shifts that affect societal and religious thought for decades, even centuries, to come. Consider how the insights of Jesus regarding our lives together as human beings and the nature of God speak to our current experience and to the ages. Ask for God’s guidance for the church universal, for us as a community, and for your personal journey of faith.
A Poetry Guide for Prayer: Robert Frost’s “A Road Not Taken”
In preparing to pray I am reminded of Anne Frank’s quote: “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First we make our choices. Then our choices make us.” Let us pray for wisdom in the choices we are making . . .
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.