Engaging the Word: Readings for 2/21/16 (The Second Sunday in Lent)

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By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, God makes a Covenant with Abram, Paul exhorts us to “stand firm in the Lord,” and Jesus grieves for Jerusalem, the city that will destroy him.

Abraham contemplates the stars by E. M. Lilien, 1908. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Abraham contemplates the stars by E. M. Lilien, 1908. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18: This week we read of God’s Covenant with Abram (later renamed Abraham), the first of the Patriarchs. In Chapter 12, Abram received his initial call that God would make him a great nation and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him. Some years later, after enduring famine, time in Egypt, and war, Abram and his wife Sarai (Sarah) are back in the land of Canaan.

In this week’s reading God came to Abram in a vision, and God promised to give him a great reward. Abram reminded God that he and his wife were still childless, and supposed that his slave Eliezer would be his heir. But God said that Abram’s own son would be his heir. He brought Abram outside told him to count the stars; that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This is a very significant verse in the Bible. In the New Testament Paul points to Abraham as an example that we are put in right relationship with God by faith, not by keeping the law.

Then God promised to give Abram the land, but Abram asks “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” In response, God entered into a covenant with Abram. In ancient times, covenants were normally ratified by means of animal sacrifice. Abram followed God’s instructions for preparing the sacrifice and went into a deep, dark sleep; God’s presence was symbolized by the sacrificial fire. And so, God’s promise of an heir and the possession of the land was affirmed.

Psalm 27: This week’s psalm combines a song of trust with an individual petition. I love the first verse: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” Sometimes I think this is all we need to know.

St. Paul by Adam Elsheimer, 1605. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by Adam Elsheimer, 1605. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Philippians 3:17-4:1: It’s difficult to understand this week’s reading without knowing the first part of the chapter. Paul wants the Philippians to beware of the Judaizers (“dogs”)—Jewish Christians who insist that Gentile converts be circumcised and keep dietary and other regulations according to Mosaic law. For Paul this was completely contrary to the gospel. We are brought into right relationship with God, not through following the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

In this week’s reading, Paul offers his own life as an example for Philippians to imitate, “for many live as enemies of the cross of Christ,” and “their end is destruction; their god is the belly [dietary laws]; and their glory [circumcision] is in their shame.”

Paul reminds his readers that their true citizenship in heaven, and “earthly things” were made obsolete by the coming of Christ. Therefore we need to “stand firm in the Lord.”

Jerusalem, Jerusalem by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 13:31-35: In this week’s reading, as Jesus heads toward Jerusalem, some Pharisees warn him he should “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” In Luke’s gospel, not all Pharisees were hostile to Jesus.  For example, the episode in which a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet and anointed his head with oil took place at the home of a Pharisee.

Jesus is not deterred and will not alter his plans. He will continue to heal people and cast out demons, and continue on his way to Jerusalem for “it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” This is Jesus’ mission according to the Father’s will, and he will complete it.  He laments the fate of the city that will destroy him, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  The passage ends with Jesus saying, “And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” I take this to refer to Palm Sunday when Jesus will ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, but maybe Jesus is referring to when he will come again at the end of time.

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