Tuesday of Week 29 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 5:12, 15, 17-21

We move on today to a different theme in this letter: the role of Jesus in our salvation from sin. A contrast is made between Adam, our “first parent”, and Christ. Adam brought sin and death into the world; Christ brought righteousness and life.

These two persons also sum up the message of the Letter up to this point. Adam stands for man’s condemnation and Christ for the ‘justification’ of the believer:

…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.

That “one man”, of course, is Adam. Paul is referring to the creation story in Genesis where the Man and the Woman, clearly disobeying the instructions they had received from God, ate the fruit (not specified as an apple!) of the tree, significantly called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17).

It is significant, because it was only after they had eaten the fruit that they had, for the first time, a sense of evil, sin and guilt indicated by a newly-felt shame of their nakedness and their hiding from God.

Even if today we might not historically identify the “Man” and the “Woman” as actual people, they represent the whole human race. There is no doubt that through human activity sin, which is a turning away from God, came into the world and continues to flourish in all of us. Through his disobedience, Adam, who sired every human being, infected all those descended from him with sin, and hence also with death.

Sin divides man from God and this separation effectively is ‘death’, a death that is spiritual and eternal, and of which physical death is the symbol (“death reigned from Adam”). This happened either by our sharing in the sin of Adam, or else because of each one’s personal sins. None of us can claim that we have never sinned. We are born into an environment where sin can be found everywhere and in every person. It touches us from the moment we are born. And, through our personal sins, we join with Adam in his rebellion against God.

However, no matter how great the sin, God’s grace is infinitely greater in nullifying the effects of Adam’s sin. God’s saving love is a free gift given to all in abundance:

For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

And Paul says:

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Paul continues:

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.

This is the key statement expressing the meaning of the whole passage. Condemnation came through the disobedience of one person, Adam, representing all of us, and it is the single act of one Man, Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection brought justification and life to all.

‘Justification’ means, as we have said, our total restoration into a life of union with God, a union which is accessed by our believing in Jesus as Lord and Saviour:

For just as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

For this restoration of our relationship with God, we do not have to wait until the Final Judgement. Being reborn in Christ is a process that continues from the moment we first begin to believe in Jesus as Lord:

…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so grace might also reign through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nothing we have ever done, and nothing we could ever do by ourselves could have undone the sin which penetrates every corner of our world and of our existence. It could only happen by the grace, the freely-given love of God, which has been poured into our hearts.

‘Grace’ is the love of God given to us spontaneously by God without our meriting it in any way. Once we allow that love to take over our lives, its power will be greater than sin. Sin and love are totally incompatible. Where there is love, there is God and where there is sin, love is absent.

It is ‘grace’ too which brings ‘saving justice’, the saving power of God which transforms our lives and is the beginning of that eternal life which Jesus our Lord wants us to share with him.

Jesus does not just ‘cover over’ our sins. He makes it possible for our hearts to be flooded with his Spirit effecting a real inner change and the possibility of replacing sin with goodness. But it is always his work and never ours alone.

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