By Barbara Klugh
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16 Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings we learn about God’s covenant with Abraham, Paul encourages us to emulate Abraham’s faith, and Jesus tells us what following him entails.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16: Last week we read about the Noahic Covenant, in which God promised never to destroy the earth again by flood. This week we read of God’s Covenant with Abraham. In chapters 12, 15, and 17 we read of three similar covenants. This is because the Book of Genesis was compiled and edited from different sources. Although Abraham was far from perfect, he was obedient to God and believed in God’s promises. In Chapter 12 God promises to make Abraham a great nation and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him. In Chapter 15, God promises to give Abraham’s descendants all the land that came to be known as the Promised Land.
In this week’s reading from Chapter 17, God promises to make Abraham the “ancestor of a multitude of nations,” and establishes the everlasting covenant between Abraham and his offspring. God changes Abram’s name (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of many’) and Sarai (“princess”) to Sarah, a variant of Sarai. Whenever names are changed it signifies a change of purpose, a new status, a new stage in life. The barren Sarai will become Sarah and will bear a son; she will be the mother of nations.
The omitted verses in the lectionary deal with God’s command that “Every male among you shall be circumcised….and shall be a sign of the covenant between you and me.” I have a better understanding of why ending the obligation of circumcision was a difficult issue in the early church and why it must have seemed blasphemous to some Jewish Christians.
Psalm 22:22-30: Psalm 22 which we pray on Good Friday, moves from intense despair to hope to trust and praise. Our reading this week is the final section of praise and dedication to the Lord: “My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever. They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.”
Psalm 22:1: Not in our reading, but here’s something to ponder: In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus used the anguished cry of 22:1 on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Except maybe Jesus didn’t feel forsaken by God—there are other perspectives about this text.
Daniel thinks that Jesus and those present at the foot of the cross would have known the whole psalm, which ends in praise. All who were there would have understood that the first verse was meant to represent the whole psalm. In another perspective, George Lamsa, an Assyrian author, native Aramaic speaker, and Bible translator, believed that the text of the Gospels was corrupt, and that it is not a quotation but should read /Eli, Eli, lemana shabaqthani, which he translates as: “My God, my God, for this I have been kept!” Lamsa’s English version of the Bible has a note that explains Jesus’ meaning as “This was my destiny.” This ideas make sense to me, especially when I read the other Gospel accounts of the Jesus’ last words. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” before he breathed his last. In John’s Gospel he said, “It is finished.”
Romans 4:13-25: This week’s reading fits well with our OT lesson, as it’s about Abraham as an example of faith. Paul explains that God declared Abraham righteous on the basis of his faith, not on rules. God chose Abraham to be the patriarch of a covenant people before he was circumcised and before the giving of the law.
God promised Abraham that he would bear a son through Sarah. Even though Abraham and Sarah were too old, Abraham, “hoping against hope,” continued to believe that God would make good on his promise, and Isaac was born. And all who exercise the kind of faith Abraham had, are, spiritually speaking, related to Abraham, who Paul calls “the father of all of us.”
Mark 8:31-38: Just before this week’s reading (vv. 27-30), Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and then, “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Commentators consider Peter’s confession a watershed moment, the pivotal point of Mark’s Gospel because now Jesus begins to teach his disciples what his mission to the world requires.
In this week’s reading, Jesus openly told his disciples that the Son of Man will suffer, be killed, and will rise again three days later. Peter rebukes Jesus, showing that although he has taken the first step and identified Jesus as the Messiah, he is unable to accept this hard truth. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus saw his future with a God’s eye view, and the disciples did not. As we’ll see in Mark’s Gospel, they never do understand fully.
Then Jesus called the crowd and said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Jesus didn’t pull his punches. Here is our lifetime work—to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus. We can think of Lent as spring training—as a time to grow our spiritual muscles through self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and studying God’s holy Word. If not now, when?