Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sin and Salvation

(1st Sunday of Lent, A)

On this first Sunday of our journey of Lent, the sacred Scriptures focus on temptation and sin. In a lot of ways this is an easy topic to reflect on and preach about, because we’ve all sinned and we all know what it’s like to feel like sinners or to suffer on account of the sins of others.

In the first reading from the book of Genesis we heard the archetypal story about sin, of the “original sin” of our first parents. And what was their sin? God had given them the infinite dignity of being created in God’s own image and likeness, but it wasn’t good enough. They believed the serpent who told them that they should want more, that they could “be like gods” if they ate from the Tree in the middle of the garden. They were already like God! That’s how we were created. But their greed for more made them disobedient.

That’s the anatomy of all sin. We try to set ourselves up as gods instead of recognizing that only God is God. We reach out for what is forbidden—and even things we know will make us unhappy and miserable—because we decide in our hearts that we know better what we need than God does. We hurt each other because we take the judgment that belongs to God to ourselves, setting ourselves up as those who know best. And in all these sins, we only reap the same thing our first parents did: shame, misery, anxiety, and depression.

Driving a car provides a simple example of this pattern of our tendency to sin. When someone is ahead of us going slower than we are, we call him a pain—or worse. And if someone passes us going faster than we are, well, he’s a maniac. So the only correct way to drive, the only correct speed is exactly what we ourselves are doing. We are the measure of all things. We ourselves are the standard by which everything else is measured. That’s taking the role of God and appropriating it to ourselves, and that’s the root of sin.

Sin has coursed through human history from our first parents down to us here today. From the little ways we hurt and betray each other with gossip and lies all the way up to the cycles of violence and hate that break out in wars and poverty and scar the whole history of the world, we are all plagued by sin. Because we do not trust and we try over and over to set ourselves up as little gods, we keep hurting ourselves, each other, and the world.

How can we be saved from this vicious cycle of sin? The good news is that God has applied, and is applying, the remedy. To us who are stuck in this sinful pattern of making little gods out of ourselves, God does the opposite—God makes himself one of us. In Jesus Christ the Almighty God becomes one with us and fights our tendency to sin on our behalf, from within our humanity, and thus creates a path out of the cycles of sin.

This is what’s going in the Lord’s temptations in the desert! Remember the Israelites in the desert on their journey after they were freed from Egypt? Remember how they complained to God and to Moses, continually demanding things and putting God to the test? Jesus, in these forty days he spends being tempted in the desert, is re-living the forty years the Israelites spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. But instead of failing the way the Israelites did and the way we too continue to fail, Jesus succeeds on our behalf. He defeats the temptations and remains faithful to God.

And Jesus’ faithfulness, his righteousness, and his victory over temptation and sin is freely available to all of us, as soon as we get sick and tired of being sick and tired with our sins. All we have is let his divine humanity enter into our humanity. And this is the meaning of our baptism into Christ, and our Holy Communion with his Body and Precious Blood.

This is the greatest of gifts. Jesus defeats sin on our behalf and heals the injury that our first parents brought into creation through their disobedience. But Jesus does more than just fix the situation. As Paul says, the “gift is not like the transgression.” The gift of salvation and freedom from sin in Jesus Christ goes far beyond just putting creation back together. It lifts all of creation into the divine life of God. And so, because of the work of God in Jesus Christ on our behalf, we are even more blessed than our first parents were before they sinned. We are not only created in the image and likeness of God as they were, but we are re-created according to the image of God’s only begotten Son.

The gift, this salvation, comes to us in our Baptism into Christ. At Easter we will renew the vows of our Baptism as new Christians are themselves baptized. And this is a gift so great that we spend these forty days of Lent preparing ourselves to receive it anew.


Anonymous said...

Good post. One question (not to get lost in the weeds but), how could Jesus not remain faithful to God when he himself was/is God? Satan's temptation of Christ was futile before it even started. Any thoughts?

Brother Charles said...

The Lord, of course, according to the council of Chalcedon,had both a divine and a human will, and so there could be merit in his obedience.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the fraternal correction from a reader who notices that I (unconsciously, apparently) that I lifted the car bit from George Carlin. Requiescat in pace.