We have just heard the story of the fall of mankind into sin and death. At first thought we may say this sin committed by Adam and Eve was simply one of pride – because they tried to put themselves in God's place – but more specifically, it was a sin of disobedience. God had told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they did it anyway. Seen in such terms we might wonder why God didn't just forgive them and say, “Don't worry about it. That's OK.” Why was the punishment so harsh: being expelled from paradise, destined to sin, prone to illness and in the end we all die? Did the punishment really fit the crime?
One reason we might think in such a way is because we no longer see disobedience as anything really that bad. We have become accustomed to an attitude of indifference to many rules with the thinking, “This or that rule doesn't apply to me.” But this is not true! The natural law, according to the Catechism, was “written in our hearts by the Creator” and is therefore a law we are all obligated to obey. Of course due to the fact that we are fallen and because of various circumstances in our lives, many people may be mistaken about what is right and what is wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that all people know that there is a right and a wrong way in which to behave. The problem is that many times we choose to ignore this.
But there is also something else to consider in thinking about the gravity of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. This was not just about taking an apple when they knew they weren't supposed to. The disobedience of Adam and Eve – this primal sin of our first parents – was of cosmic proportions. The reason that the punishment for their sin was so severe, so severe in fact that it infects every person like a hereditary disease, can be summed up with these words from Isaiah, “Does the clay say to him who fashions it, 'What are you making?'” So often mankind forgets, or chooses to ignore the fact, that we are all creatures. But for Adam and Eve this was a fact that was impossible to ignore because they were made perfect by God – they were in the state of what is called original justice and through this they had a share in the divine life. In regards to original justice the Catechism states the following,
By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man's life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called “original justice”.
The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self. The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.
So what does all of that mean? It means that not only was everything perfect but that mankind was perfect. Unlike everyone born into original sin, such as us, Adam and Eve had complete control over themselves because their wills were perfectly aligned with the will of the One who had created them. There are some temptations for us that we cannot seem to overcome, although with God's help we can overcome them. But, for Adam and Eve, there was no such thing as an irresistible temptation. They understood and completely accepted the fact that they were creatures created by God in His own image and likeness and they desired nothing else – until the devil came to tempt them. But even at the point that he came along they could have easily laughed in his face. Their wills were so connected with the will of God that they neither wanted nor needed anything more.
So what happened? What went wrong? If they were so close to God that it was almost impossible for them to sin why did they sin? What happened is the same thing that still happens to all of us – they bought into the lies of the devil and disobeyed God by doing what they knew they shouldn't. And this was so bad because they, unlike us, were perfect. They had nothing within them making them yearn for something they cannot have, as we do. They had made the perfectly free choice to disobey the one who had created them.
But thanks be to God that there is a remedy for this freely chosen disobedience of one man and one woman. The remedy was provided for us by the freely chosen obedience of one woman and one man: Mary, the Mother of God and her Son Jesus Christ. Mary was preserved from the stain of Original Sin so that should she could make the perfectly free choice to obey God's will by giving birth to His Son. And her Son, being both God and man, perfectly lived out in His life the will of His Father. Notice in today's Gospel that Jesus was tempted three times by the devil. The number three is a symbol of perfection that can be seen most readily in the Holy Trinity. Therefore notice that the devil tempted Jesus a perfect number of times, which shows us that Jesus is the One who has obeyed God's will perfectly. So perfectly in fact that He, being God, even submitted to a most shameful death in order to do the will of His Father. It is from the freely chosen disobedience of Adam and Eve (and of course along with that our own disobedience) that we are led into sin and death and it is only through the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ that we can be saved.
But it is not just the knowledge of this that saves us. If we truly desire salvation then we must become like Christ and that can only happen with our obedience to the will of God. No more can we allow ourselves to think with the world that this or that rule doesn't apply to us. No longer can we think of disobedience as a trivial sin because if we are not willing to obey God then we cannot be saved. To disobey God is to choose our own selfish desires over His will for our life. And if we consistently choose ourselves in this life and thereby continually reject God then how could we ever be happy in His presence in eternity? St. Paul tells us today, “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.” If we desire the righteousness brought about by that one man, Jesus Christ, then we must follow in the way of His obedience, which in the end leads to death. For us that means death of our selfish desires and ambitions and a life of obedience to the will of God for our lives.