Whoever Looks at a Woman: Jesus Speaks to Your Heart

Having completed an analysis of the biblical accounts of Creation, giving a foundation by which to think about man, in particular, his body and his sexuality, John Paul moves his thoughts forward to the everyday, real experience of man, male and female, today and every day. Nakedness without shame sounds good and all, but what does it have to do with me?

Sermon on the Mount

Recall that one of John Paul’s aims for Theology of the Body was to give an example of biblical scholarship, to teach us how to read Scripture. In considering sinful man, he first considers what Scripture has to say, and especially the Gospels. Here we come to the gospel passage that guides and inspires the second part of the work:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.     ~Jesus, Matthew 5:27-28

…In his heart. Jesus addresses this truth, this call, to the heart of every man and every woman who has ever looked with lust. You are meant for more! This person you look at – he, she is meant for more. You are capable of more. You are obligated to more. It’s not enough to obey the letter of the law. I would never commit adultery! Move on to the next commandment. This one is for someone else. Not so easy! Morality does not apply only to our external, physical, visible actions. It also applies to our interior actions, our thoughts and desires.

Jesus expands the scope of this commandment, and all of the Old Covenant, to include not only the physical action but the specific interior, mental action. (Note that the question about divorce, which we considered at length, falls into this teaching about adultery in the heart.) This revitalization of the law also includes the commandments against murder and false witness. God does not want external, begrudging obedience from you, or from any of us. He wants you to be pure in heart, whole, fully functional, happy, fulfilling his commandments effortlessly because your desires correspond to his. He’s demanding. He has high expectations. He knows we can fulfill them, because He designed us. And he knows we won’t be happy unless we do, because He designed us.

The Sermon on the Mount is not only applicable to Jews living at the time of Jesus. Anyone, today, 4000 years ago or 4000 years from now can understand morality as something external, imposed from above, and as something we fulfill externally, physically. On the other hand, anyone, even though he has never been taught about God, can fulfill the law perfectly because it is “written on his heart.” (Romans 2:15.) Some people don’t need to be told not to commit adultery, not to kill, not to lie. They just know. And they don’t merely refrain from doing these things – they don’t want to do them. Their hearts are just, good, right. This is what all of us are called to. This is our potential, our goal, our task, and our duty to God. Until we get there, we have not really fulfilled the law in the way God wants.

Adultery in the Heart

What does Jesus mean by adultery in the heart, exactly?

Adultery: this usage includes not only a married person becoming “one flesh” with someone who is not his/her wife, but also anyone uniting with another outside of marriage. So fornication, premarital sex, extramarital sex… all included.

A man looks at a woman to desire her: This is an interior, mental act in which a man looks at a woman who is not his wife and wishes to unite with her sexually. Pornography is the most obvious example, and thinking sexual thoughts about a woman in the office, on the beach or on TV is definitely included. This interior action often manifests itself with a physical look – John Paul gives David and Bathsheba as an example. (David’s adultery in the heart turns to adultery in the flesh.)

Note that while the specific example describes a man looking at a woman, the point is really not the example. It’s the call to interiorize the commandments. So it applies equally to women. Note also that looking at your own wife to desire her is not wrong, and is not adultery in the heart, just as uniting with her sexually is not adultery. Sexual desire in marriage is good.

In conclusion, John Paul continues trying to hold up the mirror and teach us about ourselves, and about humanity. In considering sin, we study the very heart of man – the good and the bad. In the next post we will look at this “man of concupiscence,” sinful men and women, and consider how he differs from the Original man and woman of Genesis.



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