Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.Genesis 2:15 (RSV)
Adam, priest and king of the Lord’s garden sanctuary, had the duty “to till it and keep it.”
The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) appears throughout God’s treaty with Israel: they are to “keep” the Sabbath, commandments, festivals, and covenant.
Adam had only one law to “keep” in the garden of Eden:1
You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.Genesis 2:16
The law was a matter of life and good, death and evil. Keeping the law proved Adam’s love, trust, and obedience. Preserving the law, Adam “walked” with God.
Like a father to his children, Moses gave the law to Israel:
See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the Lord, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping (shamar) his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the Lord swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Law and love are one in the heart of God. Keeping the law is union with God. Christ is the Law and Love Incarnate.
Christ’s obedience on the Cross, the tree of life, reversed the disobedience of the first Adam before the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The sinless Christ swallowed death and evil, but not without a struggle.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”Mark 14:36
“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”Mark 10:38
The poisoned drink that killed Christ’s mortal body transmuted into living wine by drowning in his divinity.
St. Paul, zealous keeper of the Mosaic covenant, had to be blinded and knocked to his spiritual senses before proclaiming in wonder:
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.Philippians 1:21
Walking the line between life and death is a fearful thing for mortals, but Jesus walked right into the black hole of death and evil and emerged into the Light immortal and transfigured. Jesus set us free from the enslaving fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
The divine strategy was as incomprehensible in Jesus’ day as it is in ours:
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. ”Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?Luke 9:22-25
Christ forfeited everything to God and won heaven and the whole world.
On the Cross, losers are winners.
1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Second Oration on Easter 8: “[God gave Adam] a law as a material for his free will to act on. This law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of and which one he might not touch.” From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.
According to Aphraates, a 4th century Syrian ascetic and bishop in the patristic tradition: “He established a new law for Adam, that he could not eat of the tree of life.” See the Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Office of Readings.