Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye causeth thee to sin, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, not that thy whole body should be cast into gehenna. And if thy right hand causeth thee to sin, cut it off and cast it from thee: for it is profitable that one of thy members should perish, not that thy whole body should be cast into gehenna. (Matthew 5:27-30)
According to the church fathers, this discussion begins with sins of physical adultery – lusting after flesh — but immediately extends to cover all sins broadly connected with loose living. If we find ourselves not just looking at a fine young woman but impulsively leering at her, meditating on her, and then thinking “those” thoughts, then we are guilty. If we had had the chance, we probably would have acted on them. When the whole world seemed to come down on Tiger Woods for his indiscretions off of the golf course, I backed off and thought: Back in my heyday, when I was crazy and had no regard for God or His faith, had I been offered similar temptations as Tiger with his talent, wealth, and recognition, I would have done worse. (Thankfully, it was that kind of extreme depravity in heart and body that led me to the Lord in the first place!)
“If one stands gazing and examining, kindling desire by looking, and looking again to desire even more, he has already brought the evil to readiness in his heart. If he did not add to it the deed itself, what of it? He was not able,” writes the Blessed Theophylact in his Explanation of the Holy Gospel of Matthew. That’s a pretty strong condemnation of our motives — and for me, too true! But the ultimate reason that we are not able to act out on our wicked motives is not because of circumstantial hindrances to the bad deed, but because of the grace of God. “Nevertheless, understand that if we have lusted, and then were prevented from committing the deed, clearly we were protected by grace,” adds Theophylact.
Short of being protected by grace, we must take the Lord’s advice in self-protection. Hence the next order: And if thy right eye causeth thee to sin, pluck it out… These are our surroundings – our friends, our environment, etc. “Why then did He mention the right eye, and add the hand? To show thee that not of limbs is He speaking, but of them who are near unto us,” writes St. John Chrysostom. Essentially, if we are hanging out with bad company, we will do likewise. “Therefore by the right eye and the right hand we must understand the love of brethren, husbands and wives, parents and kinsfolk; which if we find to hinder our view of the true light, we ought to sever from us,” writes St. Jerome.
If we are going to strip bars to have lunch, we are probably going to go hog-wild with lust at some point. “He is speaking instead of those who appear to be friends, but who are in fact harming us. Take, for example, a young man who has friends living in debauchery, and who is harmed by their bad influence. Cut these off from, the Lord says, and perhaps you will also save them, when they come to their senses. And if you cannot save them, you will at least save yourself. But if you continue in your affection for them, both you and they will be destroyed,” writes the Blessed Theophylact. Any of us who have ever been addicted to something knows that the worst thing an addict can do is sit himself in front of that object to which he is addicted. The likely outcome is relapse. Thus, we must remove the people, places, and things that stand in the way of our communion with the Lord Jesus Christ our God, otherwise we may end up falling into damnation and letting others get caught in our tailwind leading straight to the fires. Thus, these few lines in the Sermon on the Mount turn out to be immensely practical in the battle not only against the lusts of the flesh, but the lusts of life.