First Sunday in Lent: The Trust of the New Adam

 

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

GN 2:7-9; 3:1-7; PS 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; ROM 5:12-19; MT 4:1-11

The readings for Lent take us on a tour through salvation history. This week we have Adam, next week Abraham, then Moses, then Samuel and David.

Our reading from Romans compares Jesus and Adam: Jesus is the New Adam, Adam is “the type of the one who was to come,” the pattern that Jesus will fulfill.

Romans points to the theme of obedience, and even specifies that those who die without the Law suffer the consequences of sin, death, but not “after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,” because where there is no commandment, there is no disobedience.

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The reading from Genesis actually focuses on Eve (which is why the early Church Fathers thought Mary was also interesting as the partner of the New Adam). On the one hand, God has given Adam and Eve not only a garden – “various trees . . . that were delightful to look at and good for food” – but also the breath of life itself. But he has also given a command. Perhaps the arbitrariness of the command – don’t eat from this tree – emphasizes the theme of obedience. It is purely a matter of trusting God.

Satan, the serpent, tells Eve not to trust God. Notice the parallel to what we just saw, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” Like all the other trees, it was “good for food” and “pleasing to the eyes.”

Though actually, the second expression is slightly different. What it says of all the trees is that they were beautiful and worthy of contemplation; but this tree made the physical eyes burn with desire.

And unlike the other trees, this one is “desirable for gaining wisdom.”

But what kind of “wisdom”? The immediate result is a change in their way of looking at each other: and they need to put clothes on. This “knowledge of good and evil” seems to emphasize evil, so that you don’t want a person with that knowledge to see you naked anymore. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “wisdom” here has to do with trickiness. Breaking trust with the Giver of Good Gifts, they have exchanged beauty for domination.

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Our Gospel takes us to Jesus’s own encounter with Satan, where it goes exactly opposite. To Satan’s threefold provocation, Jesus responds that he lives on “every word that comes forth from the mouth of God,” that he will not put “God to the test,” and that “him alone shall you serve” and worship.

With Romans we can use the shorthand of obedience, and say that where Adam (and Eve) were disobedient, Jesus (and Mary) were obedient. But more deeply, we can say that Adam did not trust God to provide for him. Jesus trusted God as the only true provider, so that even starving in the desert, his food is whatever word God speaks. What Jesus restores is the relationship of trust. And that flows even into how we look at the world, and one another. It takes us back to the wisdom of beauty, instead of the cunningness of lust.

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We should follow Jesus’ example of trust in the Good God. But Romans urges that this is more than just an example. It is more like an infection.

Somehow – Paul doesn’t try to say how – Adam has infected all of us, so that distrust is our “new normal.” Even those who have not directly disobeyed – and here, Paul says that those outside the Law have not been directly disobedient – are still wounded by this broken relationship. Not naughty, wounded.

And somehow, Jesus, the new Adam, not only personally acts opposite to Adam, but also similarly has the possibility of “infecting” us – or healing us – with his trust. Paul uses the word grace, and it is the key word of the entire Bible.

“The grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” “Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Through his “one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.” The translation in church will say “acquittal,” but the real word is “being made righteous.”

This is the Good News of Lent. Not that we had better try really hard or God will punish us, but that God provides. He provided in the Garden and he provided in the Desert. But even more, he provides a new heart. Through our union with him – in faith, in love, and in the sacraments – he makes our hearts like unto his. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. Jesus shares with us his heart, heart of love and heart of trust. Trust in him.

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Have you experienced Jesus changing your heart?

eric.m.johnston

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