In today’s passage from the Letter to the Romans, we hear about sin and death and their dominance over the world from the time of Adam until the time of Jesus. They are the twin children of Adam. As we listen to St. Paul’s words this morning, it becomes obvious to us that he cannot speak of one without mentioning the other. Sin and death, like identical twins, look exactly alike to St. Paul.
Right now, these evil twins seem to have taken over our world. Death has claimed hundreds of thousands of people in the last few months. Just as we were beginning to feel as if we were going to be able to overcome death, the sin of racism has once again reared its ugly head and plunged our world into a horrid confrontation with evil in all its hideous forms. However, our faith tells us that this is an illusion because the evil twins of sin and death have been overcome by another set of twins; namely, justification and life which were won by the obedience of Jesus.
Paul uses his very familiar time references to explain this to us. He divides time in a way that is traditional for the Jewish rabbis and the Greek philosophers. First is the time that began with Adam and ended with Moses. Death, specifically the death of separation from God, came into the world through Adam’s sin. Second is the time between Moses and the Messiah. Moses introduced the Law and taught that obedience to the Law was a way to conquer death. However, the many transgressions of the human race proved that the Law was inadequate to thwart the powers of sin and death. Third and finally there is the time from the Messiah until the end of the world in which the gracious gift of one man resulted in the acquittal, justification, and life for all. Humanity in the image of the new Adam enjoys God’s righteousness and reigns in life. While through the sin of Adam, all died, through the death of Jesus, all were granted grace, the very life of God.
It is with this faith that we are called upon by Jesus to proclaim from the housetops that sin and death have been conquered. While they may seem to prevail at various times in the history of humanity, ultimately God will prevail. Yes, as the Gospel says, some of us may fall to the ground, but we are not to fear this kind of death, this death of the body or flesh. For God knows who we are and does not lose sight of us and will rescue us. Jesus will acknowledge us before his Father with whom we will go on to live forever.
There are those who will call this kind of theology a pie in the sky reward. They will point to the many different times in our history when sin and death have appeared and brought tremendous suffering in our world. This is why we must cling to the Scriptures, both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures. In them we will find countless examples of men and women who have prevailed over sin and death through faith. Like the Israelites who sojourned in the desert for forty years protected by a cloud during the day and by a pillar of fire at night, we are protected by a great cloud of witnesses who will see to it that we will finish the race and be met at the finish line by Jesus himself. The prophets, such as Jeremiah, and the saints, such as St. Paul, as pillars of fire that illumine this dark world and its history and shield us from the scorn of those who deny Jesus. It is they who will suffer the ultimate death, separation from God who knows us down to every hair on our heads.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator