My table manners were wrong for a French resteraunt and wrong in different ways in Mongolia. Still no place wanted me to put me bare feet on the dining room table: mostly I was ok.
People are more the same than different, though the differences, if ignored, can cause problem. When Americans do not understand Arab rhetorical style, they fail to take people seriously. Cross cultural mistakes can be deadly and the problem is made worse when time is added: the further back you go in time the more the difference matters.
Ancient books aren’t hard to read, they just require knowing the rules. People are people so generally the rules are the same, except when a culture makes it different. Here is one: people at the time of Jesus loved hyperbole, propethic extreme. We tend to undersell, except in superhero movies. Ancients were different: they like big adjectives in their serious talk and modesty in their myths. We make our ficti0n outlandish, but hope for calm and objectivity in our rhetoric. This is changing as paganism returns, but we still except serious thinkers to mean exactly what they say.
When Jesus says thoughts are as bad as the sin, he is engaging in a familiar rhetorical tradition. One cannot take him literally without taking him literarily. He is making an obvious though important point: bad thoughts in your head will end up harming you. If I objectify women in my mind, then one drink too many at the Christmas party may lead to one comment to many. It is wrong to think that any woman’s beauty exists for me, this was a hard lesson to learn: her beauty is for her own. I want to be the kind of guy that acknowledges that in deeds and thought!
God would have us free of this evil.
Civil government should beware “thought crimes.” Intent may be the content of morality, but intent is devilishly hard for a court to fathom. We judge deeds as humans. Still Jesus, that great thinker, knows that I should beware objectifying women in my head or hating different people in my heart. What happens in my head or heart may stay there (and that is good), but that is bad for me. Better: start viewing people as people and loving everyone I can.
This does not mean sloppy agape. Bitterness is no good for me, but that does not mean granting a free pass to the abusive people around me! When I have done wrong, and I have done badly, God forgives, but there is a price to be paid. Religious forgiveness does not equal civil free passes.
The joy of following Jesus is that best reason and best experience support what He says (if we understand the way He spoke): do not allow bad, bigoted thoughts to fester. Get a a better soul and better actions will follow.
God help me!