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The Easter Season Leads Us Back to God
In the Gospel of Matthew the genealogy of Jesus Christ goes back to Abraham, the father of Judaism, for a total of forty-one generations. But in Gospel of Luke Jesus’s genealogy goes back to the very beginning, to Adam. Specifically Luke’s genealogy traces seventy-seven generations, again highlighting the evangelist’s emphasis not on Judaism particularly, as Matthew did by stopping at Abraham, but rather to all humanity. Luke brings us back to the act of creation itself, before the Abrahamic covenant, all the way back to Adam. In other words, the point here is to emphasize that ultimately Jesus Christ came to fulfill that which is quoted in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, or Gaudium et Spes: we were all created “to the image of God,” and that we are “capable of knowing and loving [our] Creator” (Ostrowski 16).
Further, Luke may have been referencing the ancient Jewish writing of 1 Enoch (in the Book of Watchers) which prophesied that the Day of Judgment was to take place seventy generations after Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation. Therefore seventy plus seven culminates in the birth of Jesus Christ in this Lucan genealogy, the seventy-seventh generation.
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation or Dei Verbum promulgates revelation as “the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man.” A significant element of revelation is that the covenant established through the death and resurrection of Christ is not only a new, but a “definitive” covenant that will never be altered, will never end, and await no further public revelation until the second coming of Christ. This covenant, fulfilled in Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s preceding covenants, from Adam to David. Focusing more on salvation history’s most conditional covenant, Mosaic law was in many respects is an articulation of the moral God. The life, mission, death and resurrection of Jesus in no way is or was conceived as a departure from essential morality but rather an amplification of it. In the Gospel Jesus was direct about this:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).
For example, in Romans 13:8-10 Paul relies explicitly on Mosaic law being fulfilled in the teachings of Christ: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Here we see the central Christian teaching of loving your neighbor as yourself as a fulfillment of the old law, and Paul directly reinforcing observance of the Ten Commandments of God in the Christian tradition.
Paul also writes in 2 Corinthians 2:20-22 that “For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” Here Paul reminds us that in Christ we have fulfillment of God’s sacred and eternal covenant with all of us.
Christ is therefore not only the fulfillment of Mosaic law but also its successor. Paul even uses the term “seal” which in my judgment conveys some of the ancient notion of the very essence of a covenant, in this case between God and His people. We also see Jesus’s divine mission on earth in His preternatural gifts; most notably the bodily immortality, integrity and infused knowledge of the Lord. As noted above and delineated in Gaudium et Spes we were all created “to the image of God,” but through Adam’s original sin, death came into the world. As articulated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church , this original sin describes the “state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the ‘new Adam,’ came to redeem us.” (396-412).
Christ suffered death on the cross, but He overcame death, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Christ’s triumph over death is revealed to His apostles and others on at least a dozen times following Easter Sunday as recounted in both the Gospels and in Acts. It is truly a transformative process. We read in the New Testament about the ascension of the Lord into heaven, the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and ultimately the establishment of the Church. All of these events have larger spiritual meaning, as articulated most clearly and forcefully by Paul:
Paul understands the resurrection of Jesus, as well as the (coming) general resurrection of the dead, not as a mere resuscitation of a corpse but as involving radical transformation. It means entering a new life freed from corruption and definitively removed from death (for example, Rom 6:9–10; Phil 3:21). Through resurrection the bodily existence of Christ and human beings becomes “glorious,” “spiritual,” and transformed in ways that Paul struggles to elucidate through various comparisons and negations (1 Cor 15:35–57; O’Collins Kindle Locations 889-893).
The gift of integrity as manifested through Jesus Christ finds its greatest expression in the harmony between spirit and the flesh, in the subordination of carnal passion to faith and reason. As embodied in Church Tradition in the Sacrament of baptism, and articulated by the magisterium in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (405): “Original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence.’ Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.”
The baptism of Christ Himself as noted in the Synoptic Gospels is a new testament to the fidelity of Christ to being one in their plight: “Since the Baptist was offering a ceremonial cleansing from sin, Jesus’s first great public act was to stand in the muddy waters of the Jordan, in solidarity with the guilty. But his purpose was not simply to express compassion, but rather to get people out of their dreadful condition: ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’” (Barron 479-480). As Luke (3:21-22) writes concerning the baptism of Jesus, the Father has once again connected to His creation; a Scriptural expression of the integrity of Jesus, a preternatural gift affirming that we were made in the image of God, hearkening back to the creation itself: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
Finally, in fulfillment of the covenants between God and man, the preternatural gift of infused knowledge of the Lord becomes beatific knowledge, which ties creation itself to the end of times. As succinctly summarized by Wawrkow: “Christ did grow in knowledge, comes to know things, although he also possesses from his conception the beatific vision and the infused knowledge crucial to his saving mission.” (240). Jesus Christ the Teacher is also a theory of salvation; namely that the Lord served as both a teacher and behavior-setter to his disciples. Paul directly references the imitation of Christ in his epistles only once, in writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:6). And yet so much of the typical Christian’s focus in the practice of faith centers upon contemplation on and imitation of the life of Christ on earth. We see this in the focus of the Church on the messages contained in the Gospels, both through surface textual reading as well as exegetical analyses.
We come back to the original nature of creation itself through the imitation of Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of the Lord is a fulfillment of covenant justice, a fulfillment of the major elements of the law; and because of the death of the Messiah, the unfulfilled prophecy is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ for all time.
Barron, Robert. “Christ in Cinema: The Evangelical Power of the Beautiful.” The Oxford Handbook of Christology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1997.
O’Collins, Gerald. Believing in the Resurrection: The Meaning and Promise of the Risen Jesus. Paulist Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.
Ostrowski, Thaddeus. Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2008.
Vatican Council, and George H. Tavard. De Divina Revelatione: The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of Vatican Council , Promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 18, 1965. Glen Rock, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1966.
Wawrykow, Joseph. “The Christology of Thomas Aquinas in its Scholastic Context.” The Oxford Handbook of Christology . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.