You have heard that God said, ‘Do not be sexually unfaithful to your wife.’ But I say to you, ‘Anyone who looks at a woman with desire to possess her, has already been sexually unfaithful with her in his heart.’ If your right eye makes you stumble, root it out and throw it away from you. It is profitable for you that one of your members be lost, rather than your whole body being thrown into God’s Rubbish Pit. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is profitable for you that one of your members be lost, rather than your whole body going into God’s Rubbish Pit.

It was rumoured in the ancient world that St. Origen misunderstood this passage and castrated himself. It is a fairly ferocious utterance. You might have thought it sufficient morality to forbid adulterous sex; but Jesus recognised that although the eye, the hand and other bodily parts might be involved, the act began in the ‘heart’ that is, in the centre of will and emotion.

Marriage is the focus of this teaching: in a society where most girls were married by the age of fifteen, and often betrothed at an even younger age, the problems of teenage sexuality were more easily managed than in Scotland today. People were married young, and were intended to be so for life. Men could have more than one wife, although this was not customary in Jesus’ time. The society was patriarchal granting men great advantages in property, social rights, and in marriage. Jesus’ teaching protects marriage from promiscuity amongst married people, while regarding the man as the initiator of harm.

The teaching allows no escape from its prohibition. There can be no excuse of being carried away, or being unable to control sexual urges. The man must control his desire. This is not likely to be popular in a society which has come to think that denying desire may be harmful. Jesus goes further and advises that if any aspect of a person leads them to neglect what is right, it should be ruthlessly destroyed. There is here no attention to the dangers of self-denial and repression. The advice is clear: whatever leads you into wrong, get rid of it.

Social permissiveness in late capitalist societies has led to a situation where sex is often a fear and a burden to the young who have been exposed to violent porn from a young age. It may be time to look again at the “outdated” teaching of Jesus.

One comment

  1. Yes, the ‘outdated’ Jesus knows a thing or two about sexuality; he created it after all. In the beginning the Word…..and all that. But I love that you wrote St. Origen. One of the greatest sins of the church was the condemnations against Origen by the court of (St.) Justinian in the sixth century. Yeah, Justinian is a formal saint of the Orthodox Church. What a travesty, but still there is the divine humour of an emperor condemning one of the holiest men the church ever produced, a true saint, not one of the politically correct and political saints the church is so good at producing, such as Justinian. I love St. Origen, and so did such true saints as Basil and Gregory Nazianzus, the two of whom even published an anthology of Origen’s writings they called Philokalia.

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