Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Week 29 Tuesday (Year 1) - 20 October 2015

Readings: Romans 5:12-21 ; Psalm 40; Luke 12:35-38

There are a number of places in the New Testament where the most significant teaching hangs on the simplest words, often on prepositions. John's gospel gives us more than one example of this ('as ... so ...') and so too does the Letter to the Colossians ('all things through ... for ... in ... him'). Today's first reading is another example. 'As' the first Adam through his disobedience stands at the head of a history of loss and alienation, 'so' the second or last Adam through his obedience stands at the head of a history of redemption and restoration.

But it would be a mistake to think that the analogy or proportion implied by the 'as ... so' means equivalence or equality between the two. As if the two Adams stood at the head of two opposing but equal consequences. As if the second or last Adam simply undid what was brought about by the first. As is the case with many analogies, the difference here is greater than the similarity. Perhaps it is yet another consequence of sin, and the self-centredness that it brings, that we find this difficult to understand and to accept. We think that Christ's work is measured by our sin. We can even end up understanding Christ in terms of the first Adam - as the solution to our problem, as the answer to our question - rather than the other way round - as a new creation, an adoption as sons, the gift of an eternal life that radically heals, strengthens, and transforms the old man .

As if salvation history were centred on Adam, the 'old man', and his needs, rather than on Christ, the 'new man', and the love that He is. Two other simple words bring home the radical disproportion between the world of Adam and the world of Christ: 'much more', Paul says, and he says it over and over again here. 'Much more' does grace, and the gracious gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, overflow, bathing humanity in the new freedom, the new life, brought by Christ. If death comes to reign because of sin, 'much more' will we come to reign in life through Christ. 'Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more': grace will never be outdone and never eclipsed, the light will never be comprehended by the darkness, hatred will never understand love, death has no ability to threaten eternal life.

This disproportion between our sin and God's grace is shocking, and it ought to be so. This shock is described in today's gospel reading. The faithful servants, who will later say 'we are only servants, we have only done our duty', are here the objects of a divine grace: the master, far from asking them to see to his needs when he arrives home, makes them sit at table and he himself serves them. It is a reversal of the natural order, a revolution of the kingdom of grace, the kind of shocking initiative we associate with Love.

Once again George Herbert helps us to meditate on this theology of grace. One of his poems, called simply 'Love', begins like this:

"Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin".

And after an exchange between the soul and Love, in which the soul sees the disproportion between its need and Love's desire - I am a sinner, at best a servant - the poem concludes like this:

"'You must sit down', says Love, 'and taste my meat'. / So I did sit and eat."

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