As we begin our Lenten journey of conversion and repentance, we find that we often struggle with the old Adam within ourselves that is still inclined to sin and worldly desires and our new life in Christ that was given to us at baptism and is continuously renewed through Eucharist and Penance. As a good reflection for the Lenten season, scripture reveals that there is a remarkable parallel in the Old Testament and the New Testament between the disobedience of Adam and the results of His sin, and the perfect obedience of Jesus and the results of his righteousness. I call it “The Tale of Two Gardens.” Here we so clearly see how Jesus completely atones for and reverses the sin and disobedience of Adam and though His sacrifice on the Cross restores our communion with God and once again obtains for us the gift of grace and eternal life.
Let us go back for a moment and recall what happened in Genesis Chapter 3. Adam is in the Garden of Eden, and he is knows no suffering or evil and enjoys intimate communion with God and complete unity and harmony with his wife Eve and the rest of creation. However, he is confronted with a temptation from Satan, and because of this gift of his free will, faces a fundamental choice. Adam can either eat of the Tree of Life, which represents intimate communion with God through obedience to his plan and goodness, or he can choose to reject God, his life of grace and goodness, and view himself as a god who can determine for himself what is good and evil. We know from the story that with Eve’s participation, Adam eats of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Thus, through their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, which represents the loss of eternal life and union with God. They now suffer death, separation from God, and the natural consequences of sin. Consequently, through Adam, sin and disobedience entered the world and through this original sin, all human beings from that moment are born disfigured by sin. We no longer know God as our Father and are inclined to do our will and determine what is best for ourselves. We have literally forgotten who we are, images and children of God, and the dignity and destiny to which we are called. But hope is not lost, for out of the chaos of that first sin comes the first announcement of the good news of salvation: A savior will be born of a woman who will crush the head of Satan and sin and restore the human family to salvation and grace.
Now let us go to Matthew 26:36-46. We find Jesus the New Adam in a garden: the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his Crucifixion. Here, like Adam, Jesus faces a fundamental choice, although this one is quite different. Jesus can either obey the Father’s plan of salvation that on the next day he will be beaten, scourged, and be nailed Cross for three agonizing hours in order to die for all of the sins committed against him for all time. Or Jesus can preserve his life, disobey the will of the Father and follow his own will and desires. Not only does Jesus obey the Father, but he completely surrenders himself to the will of the Father three times, which in Scripture always means perfection: “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass, but not my will be done but yours.” Jesus perfectly obeys the Father’s plan to embrace the Cross to save us from our sins. However, this obedience of Jesus has remarkable consequences. Through His obedience, not only does Jesus atone for the disobedience of Adam, but He is hung upon the wood of the Cross, the tree of our salvation. But this is no mere man hung upon a tree but Jesus is God Himself. Thus, because he is God the crucified Jesus becomes the New Tree of Life from which Adam and all his descendants had been banned since the first sin. But what exactly were they banned from? They were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life. If Jesus hung upon the Cross is the New Tree of Life, then what is its fruit?
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)
Thus, the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist, Jesus’ own body and blood, that He gives us to eat and drink so that we can once again have intimate communion with God and eternal life that was lost through the disobedience of Adam.
Consequently, through His perfect obedience, Jesus embraces the Tree of the Cross, which becomes the New Tree of Life and the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist which once again gives eternal life, union with God, and destroys sin and death. Jesus is the New Adam that reverses the sin of Adam and brings salvation to all humanity.
As we look into our own hearts, we face the same kind of fundamental decision each and every day. Do we choose to follow the old Adam within our selves, or do we choose to follow Christ and cooperate with his grace in our lives?
Thus, we see in these two passages why the Father’s plan requires that Jesus must be fully God and fully human. Jesus truly becomes God’s mercy and reconciliation to man and at the same time he becomes man’s obedience and reconciliation to God. Because Jesus is truly human, His perfect obedience to the Father atones for the disobedience of the first man Adam. But also because Jesus is God, He has the power to become in himself the New Tree of Life that restores humanity’s communion with God that was lost through Original Sin. All of salvation history culminates at this moment, bringing out the depth of Christ’s meaning as He hung upon the tree and exclaimed the words, “It is finished!”