When Looking is Sin…or Not Sin

Epiphany 6 Wednesday

Matthew 5:27-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old: You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you: Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery in his heart. But if your right eye offends you, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you that one of your members should perish than that the entire body should be thrown into hell. If your right hand offends you, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you that one of your members should perish than that the entire body should be thrown into hell.”

You say: If it is true that adultery can be committed by looking at a woman, what are we to do? After all, men and women must live together and daily interact with one another. Are we supposed to run away from the world or cut out ears, eyes, and the heart? Answer: Christ does not prohibit you from living, eating, drinking with one another, or to laugh and have fun together. All this is harmless, so long as this piece is missing from it: “to desire her”…If this lust remains excluded, you may well be among people without sin and deal with everyone…Christ does not forbid looking at another person; for he is addressing those who must live in the world among people…Rather, he wants you to distinguish between looking and lusting…This is also the greatest reason for adultery that always must strike: People do not see God’s Word in one’s spouse as the one whom God gives and blesses, but they always look about where to find another mate…This is why the true art and best defense against this would be if everybody learned to see his spouse properly according to God’s Word which is the most precious treasure and most beautiful jewelry you can find in a husband or wife and to see one’s reflection in it. Then everybody would love and appreciate his spouse as a divine present and jewel…God himself gave this spouse to me as a gift and placed her into my arms. And I know that he and all angels are pleased when I stay with her in love and faithfulness. Why would I despise such a precious, divine gift and cling to another woman where I do not find this treasure and jewelry?…But because people do not see or appreciate such Word of God, it easily happens that one spouse grows tired of the other and bears a grudge against the other and falls in love with someone else, being unable to resist lust and desire. For they do not know the art of properly perceiving the spouse according to the beauty and adornment with which God has clothed her for him. They look no farther than their eyes can see and how they think that his wife is homely or frail while another woman is more beautiful and better. Now you understand when looking is
sin or not sin, namely, when you look at another woman in the way you should look at your wife. At the same time, you must not draw the lines too narrowly, as if someone should be condemned merely because he is tempted and feels such lust and desire stir in him. For I have often said that it is impossible to live in flesh and blood without sinful inclinations, not only regarding this commandment but against all commandments. This is why the teachers have established a distinction I am also satisfied with: A mere thought, without consent, is not a mortal sin…One of the ancient fathers put it this way: I cannot prevent a bird from flying over my head, but I can prevent it from building a nest in my hair or from biting my nose.

St. Louis ed., 7:440-

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