Lent 05, Year C-2010, and Solemnity of the Annunciation
- You have approached ... Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (Heb. 12: 22, 24)
St. Paul has no sooner pointed out, in Rom. 5: 20, that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” than he clarifies, in Rom. 6:1, “What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!” Baptism—the apostle then elaborates—makes persisting in sin not an option for the Christian: for the Christian, to be baptized into Christ Jesus means to be baptized into his death and to die to sin, so that, buried with Christ Jesus through baptism into death and subsequently raised with him from the dead, the Christian lives with him now in newness of life (Rom. 6:2-4).
It looks like the imperative of not continuing in sin necessarily follows from the indicative of living a new life. It is as though this new life is the dynamic and creative logos (reason or word) that realizes what it signifies and cannot be other than what it signifies. This new life, moreover, is the marvelously new thing the Lord has promised to do, which renders past wonders recede into distant memory and even makes them seem like loss or rubbish. This new life in grace is likewise what Jesus offers to any repentant sinner who heeds Jesus’ assurance and instruction: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Indeed, new life is what genuine repentance leads to. The resolve to sin no more results in a transformation. And transformation sometimes includes the acquisition of a new name. Saul of Tarsus, for example, became Paul. But transformation is always and certainly proven true when the evil done earlier is amended for or undone in some way. Thus, when Judah pleaded with Joseph to let him take the place of Benjamin and remain in Egypt as Joseph’s slave, he was making amends for and in some way undoing his involvement in the selling of Joseph years back (Gen. 44:33; 37:18-28). And Judah here is said to give a prime example of “teshuvah gemorah, complete repentance, of being back to the exact same place where you went astray so that you can get things right at last” (Alan Lew, One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi [New York: Kodansha New York, 1999] 247; see also Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy [New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1997] 87-88). In like manner, Vincent de Paul found himself again among the poor and this time did right by them instead of attempting to leave them behind as he had done earlier. So, too, was Louise de Marillac brought back to the same situation of a mother extremely worried about her son—for whom she appeared to have a vocation even (see P. Coste I, 516, 520, 584)—when she encountered the needy and abandoned children and got it right this time as she devoted herself, with her maternal instincts and management skills, to their welfare.
Transformation, new life, supposes coming to grips with the sinful past in order to make amends for it or undo it in some way.
The sinful past will surely vary from person to person. For some, it may be a matter of adultery. For others, it may have to do with the self-righteousness that makes them jump at every opportunity to take part in a morality police patrol even at some ungodly hour of the morning or the evening. This self-righteousnness is, by definition, the seeking more of one’s own praise and righteousness than of God’s glory and holiness. It is prone to double-standard, letting the male partner in adultery get away and promoting an inaccurate, unfair and inequitable application of the law. The self-righteous accuse others. But though accusing, they may find themselves suddenly accused as they are made poignantly aware of their deserving to be written in the dust for forsaking the Lord and putting him to the test (see Jer. 17:13 and the reference made to it by Rodney Whitacre in his commentary at ). And so, coming to condemn, they may end up condemning themselves as they walk away, unable to cast a stone. Indeed, the folks who think they are standing firm should take care that they do not fall (1 Cor. 1:12).
But whatever may be one’s sinful past, underlying it ultimately and originally, I think, is the turning away from God that repeats the disobedience of our first parents. Such disobedience was motivated by their attempting to arrogate for themselves God’s prerogative since they could not stand themselves and consequently wanted to be other than who they were. In the last analysis, therefore, repentance means that I return to God who demands that I return to my humanness, so that I can get it right finally. Who I am, there I need to return, in the way that Jacob returned to the self he was uncomfortable with, and which he time and again tried to climb out of, so he could receive the new name of Israel, having contended with divine and human beings and prevailed (Gen. 32:28-29; see also Alan Lew, op. cit., 259-260 ).
And for the Christian, there is no getting it right at last unless one embraces one’s humanness in the way Emmanuel has embraced it. God-with-us has embraced humanity fully and wholeheartedly, without shame or embarrassment, and in obedience to God’s will (see Heb. 2:11; 4:15; 10:7-9; 12:17-18). Though without sin himself and not knowing sin, Jesus was made to be sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). As the new Adam, he undid what the old Adam had done in the Garden of Eden, praying in the garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39).
And it is by the will of him whom Jesus obeyed that human beings are made holy, wholly new, through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:10). Sealing the new covenant with his blood on the tree of the cross—with his mother, the obedient new Eve, standing by—Jesus finished the undoing of the evil that the tree of the forbidden fruit had occasioned (Lk. 22:20; Jn. 19:25, 30; 1 Cor. 11:25).