Adultery and Lust vv. 27-30
To be clear, the Old Testament injunction against adultery is about more than sex. Mainly it’s about property. As grating as we may find patriarchy today, the fact is that the Old Testament Israelite culture was totally patriarchal. The man was king. His wife/wives, his children, his entire household were, in their entirety, his property. He could divorce his wife at will. He could even sell his children, just as he might sell an ox. His dwelling compound was his own little fortress. Any break in by a thief was not just an intrusion but an assault against the owner’s sovereignty, Thus, any man who seduced, rated, and/or flirted with another man’s wife, was engaging in an act of war against that man. He was a thief, a brigand, a careless wrecker of another man’s peace. He was worthy of death by stoning.
Som even the “look” at another man’s wife was suspect. Adultery doesn’t happen spontaneously. It’s a process — the look, the casual contact, the “confidential” comment, the flattery, the “innocent” meeting for coffee — adultery is built incrementally. But it all starts with “the look”.
In the Greek “the look” can suggest a “lusting after”, that is, a conscious intent to have sex — a deliberate cultivation of the woman. The process will end in bed. But then, that end will be but the beginning of the disintegration of the woman’s marriage, the upsetting of her husband’s peace, the fracturing of a family. In Jesus’ view adultery was a relational tumor, a cancer the would quickly metastasize, destroying lives forever.
To emphasize his point Jesus uses both euphemism and hyperbole. The offending “eye” should be plucked out and the “right hand” (read “private parts” — by some. Google “Origen and Matthew 19:12”) should be cut off. Now, Jesus didn’t want to have a bunch of dismembered disciples following him about, but he exaggerated for the sake of emphasis. Abuse someone else’s marriage at your peril!