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Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Romans 5:12-21 is a powerful and significant passage that begins a series of three parallelisms that will take us through chapter 8. Here, the first, is using the primordial progenitor Adam as a type, set in contrast to Jesus Christ: Adam sinned, Jesus did not; Adam introduced death to humanity, Jesus gives new, resurrection life to humanity; Adam gave rule over humanity away to those powers, and Jesus breaks them. In this passage we find that we are free from sin because we are, in Christ, under grace.
The scope of this passage is cosmic, a joyful proclamation of the victory of God over the powers of sin, death, and the devil. Paul begins by referring back to the universality of sin. It is introduced in Adam, and we, each of us, then sin ourselves. It is like a sickness, passed down nascent in each of us, and then shows its symptoms as we grow older. The law, Paul tells us, didn’t introduce sin, but it did reveal it. Sin became obvious, laid bare by God’s revelation of himself via the righteousness of the law. And so, as a result, death had dominion, rule over us. The cosmos, with us as its finest element, created to image God himself, is suffering under the harsh and unyielding tyranny of death and sin.
But that power, that sickness, that enemy of death, is defeated, its back broken, and we no longer live under its power. “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” Much more surely. Regardless of how powerful we perceive death to be, no matter how deeply it cuts us when we see it or think of our own, Paul here states that the gift of God is immensely more powerful. It is, in fact, decisively more powerful, as it is a gift from God himself. Sin and death are mere negations, the absence of things that truly exist, holiness and life, and God is the source of those things.
We, in Christ, who was and is victorious over these powers, are free. The cosmos, all creation, freed of death, because of the infinite power and worth of the work of Christ to defeat them. “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
This first parallel, therefore, demonstrates that the type of humanity, Adam, is superseded by the second Adam, Jesus Christ, in whom we see and can become truly human. Adam’s disobedience is replaced by Christ’s obedience, and we receive its benefit by faith.
The immensity of God’s power is demonstrated even by the giving of the Law. Giving law, revealing his own nature to humanity, increased the trespass. You have the rules and you still failed! And yet, even in that is the power of God’s grace displayed, the power of Jesus’ work demonstrated. Sin is made even more sinful, and yet God’s power reigns.
Will we still sin? Yes. Will we still die? Yes. But in both cases, by faith we are carried through these ailments. Our sin is covered by the holiness of Jesus Christ with whom we are in mysterious spiritual unity, becoming his own body, the Church. Our death is only temporary, a death of this body that is scarred and aching under sin, to be raised again without brokenness and weakness, again because we are united to Jesus Christ. We are free from sin because we are, in Christ, under grace.
The call to us today is to acknowledge the cosmic scope of the power of sin and death, to see that they dominate creation through us. We shouldn’t be surprised to see people exploit each other, to abuse the environment, to hate and destroy even their own bodies. That is what the domination of sin and death looks like.
At the same time, we are called to see, embrace, and rejoice in the cosmic scope of God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ, and to rest in that victory. Knowing we are victorious in Jesus does not mean we won’t struggle, or sin. We will still harm ourselves, struggle through anxiety and depression, discouragement and anger. We will harm others, tempted to take advantage of them for our own benefit. We will still grow old, and sick, and die. But the victory is won, and it is for us. Adam got us sick, but Christ has made us well, and being made free under grace we need not let the world break us, or even give in to sin. By Christ’s power, we are free to live, truly live. By Christ’s power, given as a gift without any cost to us, we are becoming truly human. Amen.
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