Summary: Year A. First Sunday of Lent February 17, 2002 Romans 5: 12-19 Title: “Christ succeeded where Adam failed.”
Year A. First Sunday of Lent February 17, 2002
Romans 5: 12-19
Title: “Christ succeeded where Adam failed.”
Paul has been making the case that all humanity has been under the curse and suffering the consequences of sin. He sees sin as having two dimensions. There is the fundamental rebellion against accepting God as God, that is, on his terms and there are all the actions of humans carried out after that rebellion. Since humans are alienated from God, separated from his life and grace, they are “dead,” really dead, even though they might seem to be alive. The connection has been broken between them and God. It needs to be re-established. Paul calls that re-established connection “justification.” It, too, has two dimensions. The basic and first one can only be done by an act of God, that is, forgiving the original rebellion and the subsequent acts done in the state of war declared by and executed against God by humans. The other dimension of justification encompasses all the actions of humans subsequent to that forgiveness and declaration of acquittal and amnesty. In order for those actions to be life-affirming and productive of the re-established relationship with God, God’s grace is also needed, lest humans exceed the divinely established limits of behavior again and fall out of God’s good graces once again.
To make his point Paul discusses Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. He found favor with God, was approved by God, was “justified,” because he trusted in God. But Abraham was ineffective in re-instating those connected to him, in effecting the “justification” of others, fellow Jews, and this for two reasons. First, the problem was bigger than a merely Jewish one as in Romans 1: 18-2:16 demonstrates. The solution needed to encompass all humanity, not just Jewry. The second reason is the Jewish Law. Even if there were a chance that Abraham’s faith might be effective for others, the Law intervened and prevented it. Paul saw the Law as a “parenthesis” in the divine plan. It did not begin until Moses and ended with Christ. What it did was make explicit the sins committed by humans from the time of Adam,. Now, thanks to the Law, they knew they were committing sins, sins piling on top of the “original sin,” of Adam. Moreover, the Law made matters worse. The very spelling out of what constituted a sin gave people even more ideas of how to sin, ideas they might not have thought about if there were no specific law condemning certain behaviors. Even more to the point, the Law gave no grace, no power, to avoid sin. Instead of making a relationship with God better, it made it worse. Humanity needed a savior, not a new set of laws without the accompanying grace to obey them.
To make his case that Christ is just that savior, Paul compares and contrasts him to Adam. He describes Christ in other places as the “Second Adam,” or the “Last Adam,” the founder of an entirely new race. Unlike Abraham and like Adam, Christ’s sphere of influence is humanity-wide, all-inclusive. In the human person of Adam, all humanity is represented. Adam, a word that is really not a name, but the noun for “humanity,” all sinned. In the human person of Christ Jesus, representing all humanity, all are saved, justified, forgiven, re-instated into a relationship with God. In the history of salvation when one person failed in the accomplishment of God’s purpose God would raise up another to take his place. Joshua succeeded where Moses failed. David succeeded where Saul failed. Elisha succeeded where Elijah failed. But who can take the place of Adam? Only one competent enough to undo the ill effects of his fall from grace. Humans needed grace before they could obey. Christ succeeded where Adam failed.
In verse twelve, just as through one person sin entered, to the modern Western mind it seems grossly unfair to hold others responsible for what someone else has done. Paul, however, sees reality as a Semite would. Scholars call this outlook “corporate personality.” He sees humanity as if it were one body with many members. He sees the Church the same way. If a person drinks poison, the hand and throat are not the only members responsible. They might be the only truly guilty members, since they did the actual deeds. But every member is “responsible,” since they all must pay the price. All the members are adversely affected, just as they are positively affected when the hand and throat eat good food, even though they did nothing to bring the food into the body. Paul does not have to explain to his audience mostly Jewish Christians what he means. They get the point. Paul believed that there was an historical person, Adam, who sinned. But, for Paul and his readers, Adam was more than an individual. He was “humanity.” He represented everyman and woman. What he did was typical indeed, archetypal, of what all humans do in their lives. Because he was the first, the founder, the father, all his family members have been both disconnected from God and infected with his disease, a disease he gave himself and passed on to humanity, a disease now in the spiritual genes of the human race, a disease which, until disinfected, prevents the re-establishment of friendly relations with God. To carry the analogy to extremes, God does not want to catch or be infected by the evil we would bring to his table and table-fellowship. We remain ostracized, not because God hates us, but for his own protection, if you will.