May 27, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV)
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Sometimes we get so used to things being the way they are that we can’t see things any other way. It is as if we’ve turned “a blind eye” (and not in the sense that Jesus meant it) to the reality of our situation.
When I travel to London, I often take its underground train system called the Tube. In addition to being a great way to get around a busy city, the Tube has introduced the phrase “mind the gap” into popular vocabulary. It’s a reminder for everyone to pay attention to the boundary (“the gap”) between the train platform and the train itself. For passengers, that can mean the difference between a safe trip to their intended destination and winding up injured by the space between.
I thought of this phrase in connection with Jesus’ teaching in today’s text.
Admittedly, Jesus’ words raise several puzzling questions. What does Jesus mean when discussing someone who “looks lustfully” at another? What’s the difference between looking with love at another person and looking at them with lust?
St. Augustine once said that sin is distorted love. The desires for beauty, connection, and intimacy are all God’s good gifts. But as Augustine suggests, they can be distorted into something else. Healthy relationships require healthy boundaries. And that’s particularly so when power dynamics are part of the relationship, as is the case in leadership. Lust seeks to use one’s power to possess the other for one’s own satisfaction, whereas love aims to empower and serve the other.
That raises a related question: Why would Jesus focus his teaching on “your right eye?”
The right eye likely suggested the dominant eye in Jesus’s day, as it does in ours. The connection to dominance and power is also behind Jesus’ use of the second phrase, “your right hand.” From the beginning, biblical wisdom warned leaders about the dangerous combination of lust and power. Two early warnings included counsel against the accumulation of wives by Israel’s kings when polygamy was still permitted (Deuteronomy 17:17) and the disastrous example of King David’s blatant use of power in his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). Lust combined with power invariably leads to destructive results.
And that brings us to a further question: Why would Jesus use such incendiary language in response?
I try to imagine what it was like for someone to hear Jesus’ words for the first time. They certainly would have stunned and confused me. Why would Jesus use such deliberately shocking language: gouge out your right eye and cut off your right hand? Most interpreters have been quick to point out that Jesus intended the language to be hyperbolic. And I would agree. But in our desire to defend Jesus from potential critics, I wonder if we are missing the point.
I believe Jesus meant to shock us to attention.
Sometimes we get so used to things being the way they are that we can’t see things any other way. It is as if we’ve turned “a blind eye” (and not in the sense that Jesus meant it) to the reality of our situation. In our generation, the #MeToo movement has shocked us into seeing the pervasive reality of the sexual abuse of power. Not everyone has been as egregious as Harvey Weinstein, of course. But as I talked with my female colleagues and friends, I was shocked by how many had been sexually accosted, if not abused, in the workplace.
Paradoxically, Jesus opens our eyes so that we can shut those (including our own) that are “looking lustfully.” And he does that so we can also stop (“cut off”) our destructive behaviors toward others and ourselves. As leaders, our challenge is to use our power to enable love to flourish and to limit lust’s ability to take root in our lives, in the lives of those we lead, and in our organizations.
Jesus wants us to “mind the gap.” There are healthy boundaries that are meant to separate us in our relationships, including in our workplaces. And these include acknowledging the importance of boundaries for us as sexual beings. The gift of physical intimacy – which is itself a metaphor for our relationship with God – is meant to be protected. And its abuse carries the gravest consequences, as Jesus warned.
So, mind the gap.
How healthy are your emotional and physical boundaries at work?
Look honestly at your leadership and workplace environment. How might you reinforce your own emotional and physical boundaries? Are there structural issues that you, as a leader, can address constructively?
You have created us in your image. And you have made us for many different kinds of healthy relationships with one another.
Helps us to be wise in our dealings with each other. Help us respect one another’s physical and emotional boundaries. And enable us to contribute to the other’s flourishing.
We ask for your glory and for our good.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What Is Righteousness? (Matthew 5:17-48).
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During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.