Brothers and sisters, we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture - "I believed, and so I spoke" - we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
I trusted, even when I said:
'I am sorely afflicted,'
and when I said in my alarm:
'No man can be trusted.' (R./)
O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful.
Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosed my bonds. (R./)
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord's name.
My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Two phrases shine out in today's readings, "treasure in earthen vessels"; "whoever looks lustfully at another". In Paul's words, we are only "clay jars," not immune to suffering or temptation. He adds his eloquent statement about living in hope, in spite of whatever may happen in our lives. "Afflicted in every way but not crushed; full of doubts, but not despairing; persecuted, but not destroyed." His final words make good sense to both mystic and Christian activist: "we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus also may be revealed."
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proposes genuine ideals, but often in the language of hyperbole. It would be wrong to gouge out one's right eye or to hack off one's right hand, just because they have led us into temptation. There is a shock treatment in his mode of address, like his other words about "hating" father and mother in order to love God (Matthew 10:37). What Jesus says about adultery, whether in the heart only, by lusting after another person or in action, by breaking up a happy marriage, must be taken seriously, as an ideal. He sets up ideals for us, and although we are tempted, undergo doubts and confusion, and at times falter and sin and need forgiveness, they remain a precious guideline for us, for as long as we live in our "earthen vessels."
How could Jesus say, "If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away"? Clearly this is an exaggerated expression, designed to shock; he does not intend his words to be taken literally. This image of tearing out our right eye links back to his view of adultery not just as a physical act but as an intention or a desire, "whoever looks at a woman lustfully." He is inviting us to consider the roots of wicked actions, arising from the passions of our human heart. This is the deeper virtue that he referred to a few verses earlier.
What the Lord wants of us is not just a change of behaviour but a change of heart, a purifying of desire and intention. This interior transformation is understood elsewhere in the Scriptures to be the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who renews the human heart. It is above all in prayer that we open ourselves to the Spirit of God. It is above all in silence that we seek the Lord's face, in the words of today's responsorial psalm, and open ourselves to the coming of the Lord's Spirit, who works within us to create in us a heart that reflects the heart of Jesus.