Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Legacy of Temptation in the First and Second Adam

March 9, 2014 –– 1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:7–9; 3:1–7 / Psalm 51 /Romans 5:12–19 / Matthew 4:1–11
The Legacy of Temptation in the First and Second Adam

How many people in our churches hear or try to read St Paul’s letters and often say Huh? Even Peter, in his second letter, admitted There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures (3:16–and note, too, that this is an early witness to Paul’s letters being recognized as “scripture”).   Yet this is how God chose to disclose his Truth to us! If we believe that God has spoken in the  Scriptures (and that our own souls are important), then it is worth the effort to understand what God says and how he says it.

It is often said that Catholicism is a “seamless garment”––everything interfaces. This is no less true of the Scriptures. The Old Testament often presents a problem or a promise (usually the two are integrally connected). The Gospels tell how Jesus solved the problems and fulfilled the promises. The Epistles give an early commentary, with Apostolic perspective, of the way the Old Testament stories and Gospel narratives can be connected together and applied to our ongoing human situation. 

If you give close attention to the Scriptures today you will see how God’s Word works for our instruction through the varied stories and styles and its many different details. In Genesis we have the story of the original temptation with its horrifying results. Don't you ever wonder how it could have happened? The man and woman were in touch with God.... in a world that had not yet succumbed to evil.... without the inherent weakness that we know so well in ourselves. It seems that everything was in their favor to say "no" to temptation and "yes" to having God rule their lives. But it didn't happen that way; Satan confused our first parents with contradictions and lies and a promise that humans could be “like” God.... and they fell for it.

Ever since then, temptation and evil is no stranger to us humans. We all know what it is to do something we shouldn't do. We even sometimes do things we don't want to do, things that make us feel depressed and ashamed as soon as we do them. Why is it that we can successfully ward off a series of temptations only to succumb in a moment of weakness? We all know temptation and its nasty effects.

The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what happened because of Adam and what has happened (and will yet happen) because of Christ. How did the sin of Adam affect everyone? Paul says that the trespass―the disobedience―of one man (Adam) brought God’s judgment―physical death and spiritual condemnation―to all Mankind. Somehow, all of humanity participated in what Adam did. St Augustine, the great theologian at the turn of the fifth century, said the human race sinned in Adam “in embryo” at the time of his disobedience.  So the Psalmist admits, in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived (51:7). Every person born into this world comes with an identity in Adam. It is an identity that brings with it alienation from God (guilt), a tendency to live for one’s self (commit sin), an inevitable curse (death) and a threat of God’s future wrath (eternal punishment).

But.... (this is Paul’s forceful interjection earlier in Romans––3:21) God has chosen to provide another identity: in Christ―another, second and last Adam (1Cor 15:45)―so that all that we  received from the first Adam can be undone and reversed in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is telling us in Romans 5.

Jesus comes into our world in continuity with all that has preceded in the Old Testament. Jesus comes as a human being––born of a woman (Galatians 4:4). Jesus also comes as someone vastly different than you or me––without human father, because he is the Son of God. Because Jesus was totally human, he developed as humans do. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was no stranger to temptation. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are––yet without sin. A crucial issue for our understanding of salvation is how Jesus affected humanity just as Adam did. Even as we have been condemned on account of what Adam did, so we can be justified on account of what Christ did.

Again from the Hebrews letter: Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. I need that help. You need that help. In the story of his temptation, we see Jesus identifying with us by undergoing the same temptations that made the first Adam cave in. John describes the temptations like this: the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1Jn 2:16). These are temptations we still face every day.

There’s the temptation to give in to physical desire. In Jesus’ case it was hunger. Jesus was in the desert, on a fast without food. When he was at his weakest, the temptation impulsively came to satisfy his hunger. We all have those temptations. We feel the basic desires stir within our bodies, and they demand immediate attention. It can be hunger, thirst, sex, or anything else that comes out of what we can call our animal instincts. Because they are so much a part of what we are as creatures, we find it easy to rationalize them. But Jesus knew there is a time even to say "no" to our most common desires.... and he did it.

There’s the temptation to lose perspective. We tend to think this world as-it-is is the “real” one because it's the one we see and feel. Satan showed Jesus an amazing display of the splendor this world has. And this world does have splendor––it's still part of God's creation even though it is “broken.” Satan wasn't offering something he couldn't give.... for a while.

A third temptation is the most insidious. Satan urged Jesus to show himself in ways that go beyond God's nature and intention. It’s the error of sensationalism––if we aren’t going to outright disobey, then there’s the trap of being ostentatious and smug and even judgmental (“I’m really something––compared to you!”).... and thinking this is a sign of spiritual faithfulness.

Here’s the main point: We do not have a choice not to be born in solidarity with Adam. Yet, we do have a choice to live in solidarity with Jesus Christ. The good news is that we do not have to keep our identity in Adam. God has done something through his Son so that we can embrace an identity “in Christ” and live a life of following Jesus.

When God first created Man, he made him needing to say “yes”―needing to accept freely the Life that only God can give. God wanted Adam’s “yes,” but instead he received Adam’s “no.” In his love and mercy and grace, God offers a second chance through a second Adam in order to  establish a second creation. On God’s side of things, forgiveness of sins is done; on our side, we must “appropriate” it. It’s like a free meal: the meal is already paid for, but unless a person goes and eats, the benefit is lost.

When we say “yes” to God’s life in us we must say “no” to sin. We do not have to settle for ordinary lives that we inherit from Adam. Anyone can live for the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. That is human life in DEFAULT mode. On the other hand, we can be people in whom Jesus Christ himself lives and acts. That is what it means to be “in Christ’ ––a Christian. That is why these Scriptures are given to us this first Sunday of Lent. There is a contrasting legacy of temptation from the First Adam and the Second Adam. Which identity are you choosing?

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