Saturday, March 11, 2017

Christ the Second Adam

Like most people my age I use a computer or other electronic devices on a pretty constant basis. I can’t really say that I know a whole lot about their maintenance, but there are a few basic things that you learn just through familiarity. For instance, I know that if my device is having problems or acting buggy, the first thing to do is to turn it off and restart it, or “reboot” it.  It is something of a technology panacea. Whenever you call technical support they will usually start there and it’s because it usually works! According to my tech support friends, more than half of the problems their clients experience can be fixed with a simple reboot.  

The term has entered into popular culture. You have probably heard of a remake of a TV series or movie franchise described as a ‘reboot.’ Sometimes a new start is the key to revival. It is a way of refreshing or breathing new life into something that has gone stale.

Counselors will similarly help couples ‘reboot’ their marriage or relationship by reigniting the flame that has gone out, reminding them why they fell in love in the first place. Sometimes in order to solve a problem we need to retrace our steps and go back to the place we were before the problem began.

Repentance, which is the special focus of the season of Lent, is precisely this kind of turning back. We have wandered far from the Lord, and as a result, a lot has gone wrong. We need to return to him and begin again.

The readings for this first Sunday in Lent, follow a similar pattern. Our Old Testament reading, for instance, takes us all the way back to the beginning, to the place where things began to go wrong. Our first parents believed the lies of the serpent and were seduced into disobeying the commandment of God. Instead of trusting in God they chose to take matters into their own hands and to seek a life apart from God.
Eve could perhaps be forgiven for believing the serpent, but Adam knew better, unlike his wife, he had heard the commandment directly from God and yet he deliberately disobeyed. And so our reading from Romans says, “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.”

This is the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, or the belief that human nature—created good by God—got twisted and set off course at its very foundation. What was God’s solution to this dilemma? Reboot! God relaunched or restarted human nature in Jesus Christ.

The New Testament refers to Jesus as a “second Adam” or the “New Man.” In our reading today, Saint Paul compares the disobedience of the first Adam to the obedience of the second Adam. He sets up Jesus as a kind of anti-type to Adam,
 “Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”

The Church fathers referred to this as the doctrine of recapitulation, but we can think of it as a reboot.  This is the way Saint Athanasius described it,

"You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself."

Now let’s compare our Old Testament reading to the Gospel for today. Do you see the parallel? In the first lesson, Adam and Eve are tempted in the garden by the crafty serpent. In the second, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan.

In the first reading, the serpent twists God’s commandment. He asks, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?  He makes God’s commandment seem unfair and unreasonable, but of course, God permitted Adam and Eve to eat of any tree they pleased, it was only one that was forbidden.  In the second reading, Satan also misuses God’s commandments, Holy Scripture, in an attempt to mislead Jesus.
Jesus like our original parents, is tempted to disobey God, to take matters into his own hands and live a life apart from his Father. Satan appeals first to Jesus’ physical hunger, the desires of the flesh. Next he tries to tempt Jesus with riches, the lust of the eyes. Finally he tries to provoke him to some demonstration of his power and divinity. Here Jesus is tempted with the pride of life. Each time, however, he does what Adam and Eve failed to do, to refute Satan, and to hold fast to the truth and goodness of God’s commandments.

Jesus shared our humanity, the weakness and frailty of our mortal nature, he knew all the temptation that we know, and yet he was without sin. When Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden, they fell, bringing the power of sin and death into the world. When Christ was tempted in the wilderness he emerged victorious. If the first Adam brought weakness and futility to our human nature, Christ the new Adam brings strength and life. 
“For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”

As children of Adam, we all have inherited a fallen human nature weakened and corrupted by sin, but we also have been the objects of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. We have this duel identity as fallen and yet redeemed, as corrupted and yet sanctified, as simultaneously sinners and saints.

On Ash Wednesday we were reminded of our frailty and mortality, our proneness to sin, and the inevitability of our death, but that is not the end of the story. Saint Paul says,

“The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so also are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so also shall we bear the likeness of the heavenly man.”

As Christians we have been imprinted from above with the restored image of God in Christ, through the grace of baptism, but we still struggle with the old man. In Lent we do battle with our fallen nature, we mortify the old man through self-denial and fasting, but that’s only the negative side. In order to be truly effective our Lenten discipline can’t just be about not doing certain things, it needs to be about positively doing other things.

In fasting and self-denial we starve the old man that comes from Adam, but we need also to be cultivating and nourishing our immortal heavenly nature that comes through Christ. We do that through prayer, worship, receiving the sacraments, meditation, study of God’s word, acts of mercy, justice, art, and music. We feed our heavenly nature with beauty and truth, and in doing so we look more like Jesus every day.

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

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