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 for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.(Matthew 5: 27-28 – NAS)
To our eyes, the word “adultery” seems connected to the world “adult,” for so many reasons. The act of adultery is something we expect among adults, mainly because we view it entirely as an aspect of grown-up relationships. But the two words actually come from different roots. The word “adult” comes from a Latin term meaning “to grow up,” whereas the word “adultery” comes from one that means “to add something other,” to add an alternate. Add-alterate.
Adultery changes things. It’s not something separate and outside. It is something that gets added into an already established relationship, and it is something that ought not to be there.
I have always thought that Jesus was being a bit sarcastic when He begins this declaration by saying, “You have heard it said.” If they were good Jews, of course they had “heard it said,” since it is one of the Ten Commandments, the Laws of Moses that were given to him by God Himself in the desert. It is a rule that ought to be inscribed in our hearts and minds as one of the basics from God. But Jesus is also aware of our frailties as humans, and how easily we shuffle aside even the most basic consideration.
What’s so important about this, then? Let’s start with the Commandment.
“You shall not commit adultery.”
Although God prizes us as individuals, He also considers our relationships to be precious, and how we treat those relationships matter to Him. Most especially, He cherishes the quality of our most intimate relationship. The bond between spousal partners is a reflection of the bond between the Creator and His creatures, between God and us-as-His-children. It makes for a Trinitarian union, when it comes to marriage then: each partner has a personal bond to God in addition to the bond to the spouse. The triangle is a very stable form.
But what happens when one of the spouses commits adultery?
All of a sudden, the geometry of the relationships becomes weirdly disrupted.
First off, the Outsider has his or her own relationship with God. After all, God loves all of His creatures. So there is now suddenly another line coming into the structure from outside. Additionally, the Straying Partner has broken his or her connection to the spouse in order to have a relationship with the Outsider. So the base of the triangle has been disrupted. Instability has been introduced to the primary partnership. And because the Outsider is an outsider, it means that the neglected partner does not have a real relationship with that person either.
It’s easy to see when looked at this way just how disruptive adultery can be. Broken relationships between partners, injury to the neglected partner, imbalance in relationships with God. Okay, these are not good things.
So, we won’t act that way.
But Jesus knows that is not enough. Once again, He addresses the fact that our outward behavior does not always reflect our inward conditions. And it is in our inner conditions, the state of our hearts, where our relationships with God are grounded. This is why He says that just lusting after someone causes us to commit adultery in our hearts.
But what does He mean by that? Are we never to look at other people? Never to admire others?
I don’t think so.
I think that God knows our inclinations to see beauty – whether outward or inward – and appreciate it. Indeed, the ability to appreciate beauty when encountered is very important to the maintenance of a loving heart. But appreciation is not the same as a covetous desire to possess the object of appreciation.
That is what lust is: to look upon something with that hungry desire to have, to hold, to consume as one’s own.
When a spouse looks at an Outsider with that sort of hungry desire, he or she is already starting to shred the bond of intimacy with the partner. Indulging lustful thoughts for someone outside the ternary relationship contaminates each side of the sacred partnership. It isn’t just between the Wanderer and the Spouse, it is between those two and God as well.
Most of the time, we don’t want to think of God’s involvement in our relationships, especially our most intimate ones. We get a bit resentful at that possibility, in spite of the fact that it is the love of God for each partner that provides the true energy that keeps the relationship healthy. When we start “wanting what we want” and thinking we ought to have “what we want,” we start treating God as if He were an electrical power outlet, always ready to power up our relationships no matter how many times we break a previous relationship.
But what about God’s relationship with the neglected or abandoned spouse? Just because you abandon a partner, that does not mean that God does. And if you turn your back on a relationship God has entered into, are you not also turning your back on God? What do you do to your own relationship with God when you start pulling your heart out of the bond?
That’s why Jesus is driving home the point that intimate relationships can be broken by our hearts and thoughts long before we take any physical and outward action.
“But it was just casual sex!” we cry, trying to justify some fling.
I don’t think there is such a thing as “casual sex” in the eyes of the Lord. That is the nature of intimacy – to be as close to another person as we are to God. It isn’t just a pretty metaphor, a descriptive likeness – it is the REALITY. God is there. God is a party to our intimacy. When we treat it cheaply, we slap God in His face. We treat Him as if He’s just the electric outlet we use to power the pleasure machine.
"You have heard it said ....”