For those hungry for God’s word, the three readings of the First Sunday of Lent in Year A provide a remarkable repast of biblical theology.
The second reading (Rom 5:12-19) contains one the most explicit NT identifications of a type of Christ: “Adam… is the type of the one to come” (v. 14). A type is a person, event, or institution in the OT that foreshadows Christ or something in the life of the Church. Typology “discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son” (Catechism 128).
What seems strange is that this lofty affirmation about Adam follows three verses that describe how Adam’s sin brought sin and death to the human race (Rom 5:12-19 is the biblical basis of the doctrine of original sin). How is Adam a type of Christ?
The verses that follow continue to emphasize the differences between Adam and Christ. Adam’s single transgression (to transgress means to violate a command) led to many sins (v. 12, 16) and brought condemnation and the reign of death to all. But Christ’s “gracious gift” and “righteous act” brought “abundance of grace,” “the gift of justification,” “acquittal,” and “life” to all.
The only likeness this text presents between the type, Adam, and Christ is that both determine the destiny of “all” who follow them. Each stands as the representative head of the human race, whose choices affect the rest.
The Old Testament and Gospel readings narrate the respective choices of Adam and Christ that shaped human destiny.
The first reading, Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7, depicts the creation of man, the Garden of Eden, and the transgression of Adam and Eve. God said that they could eat of any tree in the Garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
After giving credence to the serpent’s lies that death would not follow disobedience and that God did not have her best interests at heart (Gen 3:5-6), three motives attract the woman: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.7).
First John 2:16 identifies these three as the paradigmatic temptations of “the world”: “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life” (literal translation).
Her husband follows her. From the beginning, the “sin of Adam” is not merely that of an isolated individual, but is intertwined with that of a human community that has first entertained temptation, then accepted the disobedience of others without objection, then chosen to disregard God’s word.
Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11 confronts the second Adam with the same three allurements. Jesus is tempted to satisfy physical appetite at the expense of spiritual nourishment (the desire of the flesh), to glorify himself by an act of presumption (the pride of life), and to enrich himself through false worship with “the kingdoms of the world and their magnificence” (the desire of the eyes).
In each case, rather than yield to the deceptive attraction of temptation, the second Adam responds with words from Scripture that express God’s will, a will he has embraced and refuses to transgress. Although the wilderness temptations occur after his baptism and before his ministry begins, they stand for all the particular temptations that occur in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ obedience in the wilderness and above all at the cross (Phil 3:5) is the means by which he saves us.
St. Paul sums up the difference between Adam and Christ in the last verse of the second reading, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). The difference is obedience.
Romans 6 and 8 explain how what Jesus has done becomes effective for all. The first few verses of Romans 6 explain how through baptism “our old self”—literally, our “old man,” Adam, “was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6). Romans 8:1-13 explains the role of the “Spirit of Christ” (v. 9) in our living a life that is liberated from the power of sin.
Christ has recapitulated (repeated and summed up in himself) and redeemed the choices of our first parents; he has empowered us to recapitulate, to imitate, his life of obedience.
Just as Jesus fasted, prayed, and fed on God’s words so that he knew what to say and do when temptation came, so let us fast, and pray and feed on God’s word this Lent.
O Christ our head, second Adam from above, help us to follow you in the path of obedience. Help us by your Spirit to put off the old self, the nature we inherited from our first parents, and to put on the new self (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10), your nature which is ours through faith and baptism. Let us love God’s words and obey them just as you loved and kept your Father’s word. Amen!