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Adultery is marital infidelity and an offence against the dignity of marriage. “When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations – even transient ones – they commit adultery” (CCC-2380). It is so serious an offence that God included it among the ten commandments He gave us through Moses on Mount Sinai.

The prophets compared adultery to idolatry (Hos 2:7; Jer 5:7; 13:27) because both are breaking of covenantal commitment. Just as idolatry breaks the covenantal relationship with God and the faithful, divorce violates the covenant between the husband and the wife.

Adultery infringes the rights of the spouse and affects the children who need parents as role models. The death penalty was imposed on adulterers (Lev 20:10-12; Deut 22:22-25). The goal was to purge that evil from the chosen people. “If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman as well as the woman. Thus shall you purge the evil from Israel” (Deut 22:22). Adultery was considered the pathway to hell (Prov 7:27). The Old Testament considered it as serious as idolatry and murder.

Jesus said, “But I tell you, anyone who looks at a woman with the intention of possessing her has in fact already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27). King David committed the sin of lust in his heart by the prolonged watching from the roof of his palace, an exquisite woman bathing (2 Sam 11:2). Even after realizing that she was the wife of Uriah, he committed adultery with her. When she became pregnant, he called Uriah from the battlefield and made him drunk and urged him to have the marital act with his wife, which was against the war ethics of the time. Uriah told the king: “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my lord Joab and my lord’s servants are encamped in the open field. Can I go home to eat and to drink and to sleep with my wife? As the LORD lives and as you live, I will do no such thing” (2 Sam 11:11).

David’s intention was to hide his adultery with Bathsheba from the public. Since that attempt failed, the king deceptively killed Uriah and took Bathsheba as his wife. He instructed Joab, “Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce. Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead” (2 Sam 11:15). Thus, King David is a typical example of how a sensual desire in the heart, if nurtured, will lead to adultery, followed by other grave sins in succession.

That is why Jesus asked to cut off at the moment the sin could creep into the heart of a person. If we do not control at the start of a temptation, it might lead to a sequence of sins. Since uncontrolled malevolence becomes an intentional act like adultery, “Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire” (CCC-2380).


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