What Jesus Really Said About Sins of the Flesh

From: http://www.crisismagazine.com

by Anthony Esolen


I have often heard it said that our Lord did not care overmuch about sins of the flesh; for He was relentless in his attacks upon hypocrisy, pride, and avarice, but was so mild towards adulterers and fornicators that we might, extrapolating from that mildness, so far dispense Christians from the strictures of the sixth commandment as to ignore their sins, nay, even to make a virtue of them, so long as they commit them with sufficient sweetness and affection.That interpretation cannot be supported by any commonsense reading of His words.

When the Pharisees, “tempting Him,” asked Him whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause at all, Jesus astonished and dismayed them with his reply.  They were not asking Him whether divorce was allowable.  Of course it was.  They were asking Him on what grounds divorce was allowable.  They should have known better.  This same Jesus, after all, is He who said that a man who but looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her.  It is insanity to try to turn that declaration inside out.  We cannot say that a man who commits adultery—the Greek word, like the Latin, suggests not the breaking of a vow, but the soiling of something that ought to be clean—is as pardonable as a man who turns a wolf’s eye towards the pretty lady; just as we cannot say that a man who kills his brother is as pardonable as a man who calls him a fool.  That would be counsel from a satanic sermon under the mountains.

As only Jesus can, because only He has the authority, He returns to the arche, somewhat feebly translated in English as “the beginning,” tempting us to suppose that He is talking about the early days: “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?”  But the Greek arche—we must think of the first words of Genesis, and of the trumpet blare that opens the Gospel of John—means much more than a start.  It suggests a governing principle, an underlying reality.  In the beginning, at the heart of human existence, we are made male and female, for one another.  “For this cause,” says Jesus, quoting Genesis again, “shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.”  The man leaves one marriage, as the child of a father and mother, to enter another marriage, to become with his wife the new and glorious thing in the world, one flesh, in the unitive and procreative act of intercourse.

Now, the Greek is mia sarx, a single flesh; not one-in-flesh, or united-by-flesh, but a single fleshly being.  No one who considers divorce a possibility can speak in such a way, no more than he could imagine a person walking and talking while cloven in two.  In other words, the moral scandal that there shall be no divorce rests upon the ontological scandal, that man and woman are for one another and in a special way complete one another in marriage.  Nor is this the only occasion in the gospels when the word sarx gives scandal.  We should recall the words of John, that the logos or speaking-to that was in the beginning, that is, at the heart of all things, sarx egeneto, became flesh; and the scandalous words he reports of Jesus, that His flesh, sarx, is true meat.  To say that Jesus is not our bread from heaven is to deny that He is the Word-made-Flesh, God with God from the beginning; it is the same, to deny that He has the authority to reveal to us why we are male and female, and to forbid us to sunder that one flesh by divorce or to mock it by fornication.

But the Pharisees persist.  They ask the “reasonable” question.  Why did Moses command—note the verb—that the man give his wife a bill of divorce?  Jesus does not accept that verb.  Moses permitted it pros ten sklerokardian hymon, “on account of your sclerocardia”!  The word sounds as if it described an illness, and sure enough it does—the hardness of a heart that does not truly love God.  Jesus did not say, “Moses allowed it because he felt sorry for you,” or, “Moses permitted it because your hearts would only find true love after a divorce.”  Jesus evinces no sympathy for the man who wants to put away his woman; and again He brings us back before the fall: “From the beginning it was not so.”

Can He possibly make the Pharisees, and His own disciples, more uncomfortable, more uncertain about the respectable, decent, broadminded, tolerant sclerocardia of their day?  Yes, He can.  “Whosoever shall put away his woman,” Greek gynaika; whereupon Jesus must clarify that He is not speaking of the splitting up of fornicators, who are bad enough already, “and marry another, commits adultery”—has befouled himself; and so too the man who marries that woman.

The disciples are abashed.  “If the case”—Greek aitia, the same word used by the Pharisees for cause,above—“of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”  Honest men, these disciples.  They resist the teaching of Jesus, because they acknowledge that their own hearts are pretty hard.  They feel that sclerocardia.  Jesus’ response, again, makes matters more difficult, not less.  He does not say, “Try your best, and if you fail, the Father will wink and let you pass.”  No, the Lord follows His proscription of divorce with the mysterious implicit parable of those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.  Some men are born eunuchs from the womb; it is a misfortune of nature.  Some men are made eunuchs; it is a crime.  But some men make themselves eunuchs for heaven—how are we to understand that?

A common interpretation is that Jesus is recommending celibacy, though not for everybody.  I won’t dispute that, but I should like to suggest an additional interpretation, and one that would bind in one coherent whole the beginning of the dispute with what happens right afterwards.  For we are in the company of one kind of eunuch all the time.  So was Jesus, when the conversation about marriage ended, or seemed to have ended.  People brought little children to Him, that He might bless them and pray for them, and when the disciples rebuked the people—mothers, I’d guess—Jesus rebuked them in turn and told them to let the little children come to Him, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

We are to make ourselves like little children, if we wish to dwell in our Father’s kingdom.  We are to make ourselves eunuchs, for the sake of the kingdom.  If we remember that Jesus never humiliates, but humbles us in order that we may be exalted, we may conclude that we are to be like children so that we may be more like Christ; and eunuchs, so to speak, that we may the more fully participate in the power of the Father.  But when we suffer from sclerocardia, that adult disease, we say, “I simply must put this woman of mine away!”  And we say, “I cannot possibly abstain from intercourse, and kindly do not expect me to confine my desires to one person!”  And, “I must cleave this flesh in two!”  And, “I must do what the body urges!”  For that too underlies the chagrin of the disciples.  If we cannot divorce, is it not dangerous to marry?  But if we do not marry, how can we make it from day to day without provision for the flesh, and the lusts thereof?

Such are the thoughts that roil in the hearts of decent, respectable, reasonable people.  But Jesus in this scene has two things in mind, and those two things belong together.  He has in mind the innocent beginning—the arche, man and woman made for one another, for the one-flesh, before our fall into the idolatry of sin; and the (relatively) innocent creatures toddling about Him.  Might a man put away his wife for any cause at all?  Or a woman put away her husband?  No; the created nature of man and woman forbids it.  As evidence, behold the little children.

Now, if anybody can derive from this scene the conclusion that Jesus blesses semi-monogamy, fornication with semi-commitment, niceness in bed, serial seriousness, soft porneia, or any other honey-brushed swoggle of old hardhearted lust, I claim then that we might as easily say that He recommends paying homage to Satan, so long as it be done with finesse and consideration for the tender feelings of your neighbor.  It cannot be.

Indeed, He is calling us to a life of genuine, innocent, full-hearted, and dynamic love.  He is calling us to have hearts of flesh.

Editor’s note: The image above entitled “Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before Papal Legates at Blackfriars, 1529″ was painted by Frank O. Salisbury in 1910.

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11 Responses to What Jesus Really Said About Sins of the Flesh

  1. Roger says:

    Thank you!
    The attacks on Creation and especially on Genesis are to destroy Faith and attempt to return Man to the State he was in prior to Our Lords coming and Passion. Henry VIII’s argument on Divorce was an Old Testament argument!! In other words a denial of Christ and the sacrament of Marriage. Henry VIII Reformation opened the door to materialism (Capitolism) its was and still is all about the gratification of the flesh.
    The Demonic possession of Henry and those Bishops and Lords is generational (Malachy Martin pointed this out) and is why today England has not put off its second wife (which it fornicates with) to return to its only bride.


  2. Genty says:

    One of the most impressively cogent arguments I have read in support of marriage. I mean real marriage.


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    Great article. A bit ironic though, given what this thread is all about, seeing as one the former bright lights at Crisis magazine had sexual proclivities most of us don’t approve of.


    I mention this because I was reading Catholic media long before I was confirmed, and while doing so, came to realize the importance of distinguishing between faux Catholics and the real thing. Crisis won’t be on my reading list for a while yet.

    Still, a superb essay, by someone who never was part of the former magazine. As far as I know.


  4. johnhenrycn says:

    …read the “About Us” page for Crisis Magazine. Very meagre, what?. Perhaps the above says why.


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    …and, for similar reasons, I’ve cut out, from my copy of the Canadian Catholic Book of Worship III (a hymnal) , the dedication page written by the former bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada:

    Many parishes (not mine) use that edition, and likely haven’t twigged (one, in charity, hopes) to how awful it could be for a child abuse victim to flip through it and come across that person’s name. I’ve been meaning to write to local Catholic publications about this, but haven’t. More fool me.


  6. Toad says:

    Like you, Roger, Toad is no great fan of capitalism.

    Unlike you though (or so it seems), he’s convinced by Natural Selection.
    As is, or so he gathers, the Catholic Church.


  7. Roger says:

    I see the signs of the lack of Grace. I see the similar impetus towards married priests as happened with Protestantism in 16th Century. The emphasis on learning and often secular learning but without Grace.
    Emmerich in 1820’s …Then I saw that everything pertaining to Protestantism was gradually gaining the upperhand, and the Catholic religion fell into complete decadence. Most priests were lured by the glittering but false knowledge of young school-teachers, and they all contributed to the work of destruction. In those days, Faith will fall very low, and it will be preserved in some places only, in a few cottages and in a few families which God has protected from disasters and wars. ..”

    Natural selection and Evolution? The evidence is for Creation.
    Any breeder knows the dangers of inbreeding. Cloning produces sickly animals. The drive to stem cells is to avoid cloning of old cells.
    The species are all seen appearing at the same time.
    The human speech mechanism is unique to humans the tongue and pharynx etc.
    A common structure and sense mechanisms is like wheels or a boat shape or a wing a practical design.
    The fossil record shows animals together that would never be found together hunters and their prey. The fossil record is because of catastrophes because a dead body would be scavenged if found in the open.
    The Catholic Church doesn’t believe in Natural Selection or Evolution but an attempt to distort Creation is being made to accommodate modern Science.
    Modern Sciences is bound up with the money and politics which dictates the research. Modern governments and there is the Hegel line that passes through Marx and it is atheist!
    There are the private opinions of individuals within the Church but this is because of the weight of academic research (which is government and privately financed)
    No body has been researching Creation but there are plenty of Christian scientists who are being swept under a political carpet. Shouted down.
    You see the same thing going on with gays, abortions, divorce a wealth of selected evidence and research used to justify.
    But expect this to be reversed at some point because of Anti Christ. Anti Christ intends that Man should worship him instead of Our Lord and worship is inconsistent with evolution is it not!
    The virgin birth and the shroud image for instance is attacked by science because it knocks evolution for six.
    The Eucharist is a Ceative miracle each and every time the host is consecrated.
    Genesis is attacked again and again but at Loudres Our Lady said that she was the Immaculate Conception (born without the Original Sin of Adam and Eve).
    Evidence for the Gospels being written earlier than modern science says.
    “..the Dead Sea Scrolls Cave 7. Jose Callahan discovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark and dated it to have been written in A.D. 50. He also discovered fragments of Acts and other epistles and dated them to have been written slightly after A.D. 50. ..”
    The False Church seen by Emmerich was in the majority . The topic of Sins of the Flesh is very important because the Flesh is the happy hunting ground of Modern Science!


  8. Roger says:

    Flesh and Spirit .
    Natural Selection Flesh and the rule of Flesh. Flesh and the modelling of Flesh to order. Man designing Man. Where IVF and modelled acceptable humans are created and allocated to suitably screened parents! Behold HELL on Earth! Hitler had the same policy! but not the Science.
    Spirit is where the Church’s Authority lies, where Mans destiny is and where we find Our Lord.
    SELF is Flesh and it is Selfish and a tyrant.
    Spirit is selfless and finds Life and God.
    Divorce is Selfish. It is always Selfish. Abortion is the denial of the Creative Spirit and treats Man as discardable Flesh.
    Evolution is Satans trap for gullible Man. It comes from Hell and its intent is Hell.
    I can say this and demonstrate by 1858/9 Lourdes and Immaculate Conception AND Origin of the Species (Darwin).
    The danger facing Man right now is exactly the same as in the time of Noah (again attacked without mercy!). Its simply its about Free Will Hell and Heaven.
    Man in Free Will can choose Hell. What if the majority of Men chooses Hell? Where is the point in leaving that generation on Earth if they cannot be saved? This is were atheist modern man is heading!!


  9. Toad says:

    “Any breeder knows the dangers of inbreeding. Cloning produces sickly animals.

    Oddly enough,Roger, Toad is with you there – well, sort of.
    What’s the point in cloning sheep when they all look the same, anyway?
    And what’s the point of cloning humans when we’ve got too many of the little rascals already?

    Roger, how old do you think the world might be?


  10. Roger says:

    5199 plus 2013
    7222 it has a times under gone catastrophes and science is picking some of these up.
    But we must not forget that God is also the author of history. He can create a billion year old rock! Create a Bird in flight
    God is outside of Creation. Science is measuring within Creation.
    Ask a scientist to prove that the Schumacher Comet ever existed!
    Ask if science can give a history of the solar system including ALL Comets and or meteors and including the life of the Galaxy.
    Also explain at what time the Earths year became 365 days? Mercury’s orbit (a larger younger sun is bigger) or was Mercury captured?
    There is plenty of evidence by Creationist Scientists for an Earth of this age.


  11. Roger says:

    Fossils of the horse have off course been found in America BUT through catastrophes the horse became extinct. It was reintroduced by the Spainish in the 16th century. Catastrophes are the destruction of Evolution so they simply keep adding millions of years to the argument.


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