Lenten Devotional: February 17th
You shall not commit adultery.
When I was in college I accidentally minored in Religious Studies. (Seriously, by accident. It's a great story, ask me about it sometime.) One of my professors was a brilliant Rabbi named Rami Shapiro. The way he talked about faith and Judaism constantly blew my mind and impressed me. One day in class we were talking about the 10 Commandments and he mentioned that when Moses brought them down to the people, it was not understood that these were the most important rules for someone to follow. In fact, the idea that these 10 were the end-all and be-all of morality came from Christians within the last 200 years. Up until then, especially in Jewish circles, the 10 commandments (or mitzvoth) were key rules to follow for a particular context... living in community with others.
So our vision of Moses and his tablets is less "here's what you need to do to be a good person" and more "here's what WE need to do to respect each other and be right with our creator." It in no way detracts from the seriousness of the offense. The Bible is anti-adultery. So taking with a grain of salt what the Bible portrays as a healthy marriage (polygamy and women as property), why is this particular rule still important?
Marriage is a covenant. In the secular world it is a contract, which can be dissolved under a number of circumstances, but in the church it is something more. Covenants are not meant to be broken. In a covenant, both sides are holding up a standard of behavior and both agree that even if the other lets them down, both parties will hold firm and take their commitment to the covenant seriously. In a marital covenant, two people come before God (and usually family and friends) and promise to uphold their vows of fidelity, honor, and love. The decision to end a marital covenant via divorce, is a decision not made lightly, but after much prayer and consideration. It is painful for both parties and requires the support of loved ones and the community.
Then there's adultery. Adultery is not a prayerful decision to dissolve a marital covenant, it's a complete disregard of the covenant. If marriage is a sacred bond, adultery is vandalizing something sacred. It's easy to see why the Bible would try to steer God's people away from such an act. But there's a reason it's included in the "10 Things We Need to do to Respect Each Other and Be Right With Our Creator."
Adultery causes deep wounds that take years to heal. It rips families apart. It causes strife in the community. So just as we tell married couples to stay faithful to each other, we need to remind everyone else, to butt out of others' marriages. Cheating on a spouse takes two people, creating an awful triangle with the injured spouse. The commandment also implores the "extra" party not to damage another's marriage and their own relationship with God.
If you think about it, it makes sense. There's no quicker way to blow up a community of friends than for two members to commit adultery. So respect your marriage, respect your neighbor's marriage, and be a figure of support and not divisiveness for those around you. Your community will thank you for it.
God of Love, you have declared that we should not live alone but in community. Bless the families that we create and the ones we make through friendship. Bless those who seek to live in the covenant of marriage. May they know support from those who surround them. Help them to respect and honor each other and seek to honor you in their lives together. Amen.
Rev. Kelly Staples, Associate Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church