The effects of redemption far exceed sin
Jesus overcame temptation to bring life to those who accepted salvation
February 13, 2005 -- First Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
As we begin this season of Lent, we leave the readings of the Sundays of the Year and instead, hear specific readings that have a common theme. Our second reading is from Paul's Letter to the Romans.
The letter relates to the Gospel's presentation of Jesus' successful overcoming of temptations. It compares Adam, the first of God's creation, with Jesus, the first of redeemed humanity.
Paul points out the similarities and the differences. Just as death was portrayed in the story of Adam as coming because of sin, so life comes to us through Jesus because of love.
Paul alludes to the story of Adam we heard in the first reading. Instead of looking at details, he presents the theological understanding of the story as developed in his time.
He expresses the conviction that humanity was enslaved by the sin of Adam. He does not tell us how, for he is not interested in any hereditary type of connection. Paul wishes to show the difference between the effects of Adam's sin and the redemptive death of Christ.
He also recognizes, in the opening verse, that we too contribute to the sinfulness of humanity. Adam alone is not to blame. Death in Paul's mind results not only from Adam's sin but the sin of all human beings.
In the following verses, Paul presents his view of history as being divided into three time periods.
The first is from Adam to Moses in which the Law had not yet been given. While people in that period did what was evil, they did not break the law since it had not yet been revealed.
The second period is from Moses to Christ. Since the law had been given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, people sinned more grievously because they knew what God had asked of them.
Now in the third period when all live in the time of Christ, there is freedom from the law. Christ's death and resurrection redeemed and freed humanity.
Paul then suggests that the wonderful effects of redemption far exceed the terribleness of sin. The act of Christ was superior in what it caused, for its effects overflowed upon humanity and were given to those who accepted salvation.
Thus, while Adam and Christ might be compared, Christ and what he did is really beyond any kind of comparison.
Paul is so overwhelmed by his thought that sometimes it is hard to follow. He wants to present his thoughts but he cannot contain himself. His mind races ahead to greater and more wonderful comparisons.
In the verses that immediately follow our reading he tells us how, through the mediation of Christ, all humanity is given a share in life. It is the life Christ received in the Spirit by his redemptive act of love.
What Christ succeeded in doing by overcoming temptation was a beginning. He completed his work in his death upon the cross. He accomplished what Adam and even Israel had failed to do -- live and die in complete obedience to God.
(The late Fr. Ver Bust directed the master's program in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)