With the beginning of Lent, we interrupt the continuous reading of the gospel of Matthew. We will resume it after the end of Eastertide. Lent has its own cycle of readings sanctioned by tradition.
On the first Sunday, we usually read the gospel of the Lord’s temptation, because it constitutes a kind of institution of the Lenten Season. Lent would like to imitate somehow Jesus going for forty days into the desert to fast. Jesus’ experience, in its turn, is usually related to that of the people of Israel, who spent forty years in the desert, where they were over and over put to the test and mostly failed. Today’s liturgy, though, highlights a different parallelism: it connects Jesus with Adam.
The first reading talks about man’s creation and his placement into the Garden of Eden, and about the serpent and the temptation of the woman, who, in her turn, persuades her husband to transgress the order that God had given him, not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In the gospel, Jesus too is tempted by the devil; so, the desert of Judah, as well as with the desert of Sinai, can be compared even with Eden. What Jesus is doing now does not concern only the people of Israel, but the whole of humanity. Unlike Adam, Jesus resists temptation and wins an overwhelming victory over the enemy. What is his secret? While Adam disregards God’s command, Jesus uses the word of God as a weapon against temptation. Have you noticed? Every time he is tempted, he replies to the devil with a quotation from Scripture: “It is written…” God’s word is his defense and his strength. Indeed, God’s word is his only food: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
The one who first made a parallelism between Adam and Jesus is Saint Paul in his letters. In the second reading, we have heard the most important passage where he develops this analogy in the letter to the Romans. For Paul, Adam “is the type—that is, a figure, an image, a foreshadowing—of the one who was to come,” and, reciprocally, Jesus is the New Adam. In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: “As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive … The first Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven” (1Cor 15:21-22.45.47 RSV). As you can see, Paul emphasizes a strong opposition between Adam and Christ. The same opposition we find in the letter to the Romans. Here Paul underlines the contrast between the first man and Jesus through a series of features which characterize either: sin, death, transgression, judgment, condemnation, disobedience for Adam; righteousness, life, gift, grace, acquittal or justification, obedience for Jesus.
Even in this case, among all these oppositions, in my opinion, the most important is the last couple—obedience and disobedience: “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one (per unius oboeditionem), the many will be made righteous.” Disobedience was the cause of our fall; obedience is the origin of our salvation. Jesus saves us because he obeys the Father’s will. At the same time, he shows us the way to walk, in order to be saved—obedience. That is the secret of salvation.