One of the persistent myths which is deeply rooted in popular Christian consciousness is that the Old Testament is somehow cruel, exacting and demanding, whereas the New Testament—especially the teaching of Jesus—is easy, grace filled, and more generous. The Sermon on the Mount is surely the greatest single blow to this myth, and our passage today, Matthew 5:27-30, should wipe away any remaining doubt: You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” We should instantly recognize this as the seventh commandment. Jesus goes on to say, “But I say unto you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Once you begin to devote yourself to spiritual formation, you slowly begin to acquire specific vocabulary which gives you a kind of cartography of the heart and the inner life. In other words, we have access to vocabulary which the world does not have. One of these words is the word “lust.”
This series seeks to provide a kind of scenic overview of the extensive and profound theological work on this subject done by the late Pope John Paul II.
One of the dominant themes of these reflections is that your body and my body are sacraments. If you find the word “sacrament” troubling, then perhaps you will be more comfortable saying that our physical bodies are “means of grace.” That is, they are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. We affirm, as Protestants, that Jesus Christ only instituted two sacraments: Eucharist and Baptism. As Wesleyans, we understand that the Holy Spirit is also the progenitor of sacraments, or “means of grace.” Some notable examples would be: Reading of Scripture (Wesley at Aldersgate); laying on of hands to heal the sick (anointing with oil is a sign of the Holy Spirit), and laying on of hands to set apart for ministry (we call this ordination).
These are just a few examples of where we, as Wesleyans, see special windows of grace where the Holy Spirit can touch us, empower us, and re-orient us toward God’s rule and reign. All of those sacraments (or “means of grace”) also are only possible through the body. The sacraments of Christ, Eucharist and Baptism, cannot be done apart from the body. It is a body which takes the Eucharist and a body which is baptized. In the sacraments of the Spirit, it is the ears that hear or the eyes which read God’s word. Bodily hands are laid upon the sick and the ordinand. It is a body which is either healed or set apart for ministry. So, John Paul II makes the point that before Christ established any sacraments, and long before the Holy Spirit established any sacraments or means or grace; there must have been, by necessity, a primordial sacrament which precedes them all; namely, the creative work of God the Father in creating bodies in general and the sacrament of marriage in particular.
Thus, one of the central themes of this whole series is that the body has a sacramental presence in the world. It is only the body which makes the invisible, visible. Therefore, the body is fundamentally a theological category, not merely a biological one. Once we recognize the Trinitarian basis for the sacraments, then we see that the Triune God invades our entire existence, and therefore, there are ethical boundaries which are inherent in our very creation. As I said in the first article on this theme, freedom of will is not the freedom to decide what we will call good and what we will call evil, but the freedom to choose whether or not we will embrace the evil or the good.