Adultery and divorce are perfectly legal in our society. When the Ashley Madison scandal broke it wasn’t even surprising to learn that a massive service exists to help married people meet and have affairs. This passage in Matthew makes it sound like none of this is new. Adultery has been going on for millennia. Divorce is also an old legal practice. What is new is how pervasive they have become.
Then again maybe adultery was always pervasive. “Anyone who looks at another lustfully has already committed adultery” (verse 28). What?! How did Jesus make that leap? Going to bed with someone who isn’t your spouse is not the same as lusting after that person! Jesus says it is. While the actual act is different, the consequences are just as deadly to relationships and our own lives.
The command to “gouge out your own eye” in order to refrain from sin is pretty extreme. What is Jesus getting at here? He wants to be clear that there is no room for sin in our lives. Sin destroys. It may not come to light. Affairs tend to be discovered eventually. Lusting after someone tends to stay hidden. Nevertheless the inner life decays when lust is allowed to run amuck. Jesus takes the Joseph approach. Do you remember how Joseph runs away from Potipher’s wife when she wants him to sleep with her? He gets out of there. It’s the same with Jesus’ hyperbolic command to remove the eye. He wants us to get away from that which causes us to sin.
It would be foolish to believe that we don’t need a reminder to keep our minds pure. Christians are just as susceptible to the temptations of the flesh as anyone else. What we have in Christ is strength of resist temptation and grace for when we fail. Jesus was tempted (see day two), but He did not give in. If temptation is weighing on you, find a way to get it out of your life.