Our second reading today, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, is one of the most important theological texts in the entire Bible. So yea, strap in, because we are going deep.
Here’s the line:
Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.
Well, I didn’t eat the apple. Did you eat the apple? Or you? That’s what is so unsettling about Original Sin, especially to us Americans who so value our individual freedom and individual responsibility: we are paying for someone else’s mistake. Somehow, because Adam at the apple, or whatever form the first sin of our first parents took, somehow because of this each of us now experiences temptation and suffering and death. It just does not seem fair!
Well, fair or not, the reason this is the case is because we all share a common human nature, and because we all share that nature, we are deeply, metaphysically connected to one another. What affects one person affects all people. When one person sin, it wounds all of us, and while Adam may have been the first, he was not the last. In theology, the name of this deep unity is “solidarity”.
But solidarity is not just the cause of our death, it is also the cause of our life. It is through solidarity that Jesus was able to free us from sin and death. See, Christ took upon himself a human nature, which means that he entered into the very same solidarity that we have with Adam and each other. But he entered into this solidarity with his divine nature as well. The one person, Jesus Christ, both human and divine. It is like he put God and humanity right next to each other, and he himself is the bridge.
But if we are to cross this bridge, then we need another point of connection. If it is by being born human, that we share each other’s human nature; it is through baptism that we come to share in Jesus’ divine nature. Birth and baptism, physical and spiritual, human and divine. These are our two points of solidarity. Birth gives us a connection to our fellow human beings, but it is a relatively weak connection. Baptism gives us a connection to Jesus Christ, and through him to every other Christian in the world, and no bond can ever be stronger. When we are united in our human nature, and through participation in the divine nature, we truly become one unit, which is why we can say things like the Church is a body.
So what are the implications of our deeper solidarity in baptism? First, obviously, is our salvation. Our solidarity in the life of Jesus, the new Adam, is stronger than our solidarity in the death of the old Adam. Second, if we are united in life as well as in death, then we can bring life to each other. This is where the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving become so important. Each of these practices brings with them spiritual benefits, and help us break our addictions to power, pleasure, and wealth. Prayer reminds us that we are not in control, fasting reminds us that our deepest happiness does not come from fleeting pleasures, and almsgiving reminds us that everything we have received comes from God and must be offered back to him. But in addition to the individual benefit of these practices, they also come with a communal benefit. Consider fasting, for example: it kind of hurts to fast; it certainly makes me uncomfortable. Well, because I am united deeply to every single other Christian in baptism, I can actually, literally, not just metaphorically take the pain of another person onto myself. If you know someone who is hurting for whatever reason, and you take on additional pain through fasting (a voluntary choice, pain that you did not need to take on), you are taking on the pain of your fellow Christians. You are lightening their crosses by offering to carry their pain in your body instead.
This is very similar to what Jesus did in today’s Gospel. He did not have to suffer in the desert, or allow himself to be tempted. But he did so, in order to make our temptations less, in order to enter into complete solidarity with our humanity so that we can enter into complete solidarity with his divinity.
So, summary: You share a deep bond with your fellow human beings through our shared human nature, and you share an even deeper bond with your fellow Christians through baptism. The first bond has been corrupted by death, but the second bond brings life. And as you enter into this penitential season, remember that your spiritual practices, as difficult as they might be, are bringing life not just to you, but to every single person united to you in Jesus through baptism.