Beatnik, hippie, baby boomer, yuppie, Generation X, millennial – these are terms used to describe the generations that have come into existence since I was born in the 1950s. Sometimes a generation would accept the title and wear it as a badge of honor. Other times, the title was rejected. Jesus used a title to describe his generation – adulterous and sinful. Could this description be applied to the generations that exist today?
Jesus wasn’t simply describing the sexual ethic of his day when he uses the title “adulterous.” Adultery was a reality (as illustrated by the woman that the people wanted to stone because of adultery), but I think the Lord was also using the term in a much broader sense. To understand this, we need to look to the prophets.
God said to Hosea, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” Note that God defines harlotry or adultery as “departing from the Lord.” Sexual adultery is surely condemned, but it is spiritual adultery that concerns us. If it is true that departing from the Lord is spiritual adultery, then this present generation is most certainly adulterous and I am an adulterer too.
What does it mean to depart from the Lord? The sad way of adultery gives us a clue. Adultery is not solely driven by physical lust. It is not just a reality when physically consummated. While desire is involved, adultery begins as “an affair of the heart.” In these days of social media, married men and women check into websites where they can engage with someone. In this forum, they share thoughts and feelings that should only be shared with their spouse. If they still have any love for their spouse, the result is a divided heart.
We adulterers love God with a divided heart. Speaking to the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said “…these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me.” We remove or divide our hearts from God to pursue other lovers. God is a jealous God who wants us to love Him with all of our heart. It always has been and always will be a matter of the heart. The Master described it when he said that all of the Law and the Prophets rested upon this – that you love the Lord your God with all your heart.
Don’t be confused about this. Does it mean that if I love my spouse, I am not loving God with all of my heart? Does it mean that if I love my friends that I am not loving God with all my heart? Does it mean that if I love the beauty of creation or of art or music that I am not loving God with all of my heart? The answer to all is no. After all, Jesus also said that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. He did not see this as a division of love. Here is the point: only when I love God with all of my heart can I love others fully with no sense of divided loyalties. There is no division or competition in true love. However, when I love God with only part of my heart, then all other loves are adulterous.
The Greek language is helpful here because while we have one word for love, Greek has many words. The word that applies here is “agape.” It means unselfish and sacrificial love and it best describes the love of God. God is love and creation was an act of love. The giving of the law was an act of love. The sending of the Prophets was an act of love. The Cross was an act of love. The creation of the Church and the Scriptures was an act of love. Surely, in the face of this kind of love, we should love God with our whole heart.
Given how we think of love, there is a possible problem. Is love a matter of how we feel, so love for God is also a matter of feeling? It is wonderful to feel love, but it has to be more than that.
In his teachings and life, the Lord shows us what agape is and how it is to be expressed. It can be felt but it is more than feelings. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Each time, after Peter replied that he did love him, the Lord said “feed my sheep.” If you love me, do something!!! Agape was supremely displayed on the Cross. It was shown in the martyrs, apostles and prophets. It is unselfish love shown not just by words and feelings but by deeds.
How do we live in this adulterous and sinful generation? We stop being adulterers. We no longer live with divided hearts and loyalties. We must regain an undivided heart. How is this done? Since the Cross was an act of love, the Lord invites to share in this love. It means we must do something: pick up your cross, deny yourself and follow Christ. This command seems burdensome and hopeless to a divided and adulterous heart. To an undivided heart, it is a call to love itself.
May the God of love draw us to the Cross for it is the only cure for an adulterous and sinful heart.