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Introduction To The Scripture For The Second Sunday In Lent - Year B
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Second Sunday In Lent - Year B


GENESIS 17:1-7,15-16                   The legend of Abram's and Sarai's 
names being changed to Abraham and Sarah has little meaning apart from 
God's covenant promise which went with it.  All subsequent history of the 
Jewish people rests on this promise.  They were to be God's people.  This 
particular story was part of a document written by a school of priests 
that forms the framework for the whole Book of Genesis.  At least two 
earlier documents, designated the Yahwist and Elohoist from the names for 
God used therein, were fitted into this framework to create the present 
text.  This editorial work was done in the 5th century BC, long after 
Israel's return from exile in Babylon and more than a thousand years after 
the presumed date of Abraham's migration.


PSALM 22:23-31                         There is a possibility that this 
part of the psalm is actually a separate hymn of praise and thanksgiving 
unrelated to the lament of the first part.  It may also have served as a 
liturgy for anyone who came to give thanks for deliverance from 
affliction.


ROMANS 4:13-25                         Paul's arguments here is that God's 
promise to Abraham (our Old Testament lesson) had special value for 
Christians.  Like the patriarch, faith in God, not keeping the law, makes 
the promise effective.  Our being given a right relationship with God 
(Paul calls it 'justification') depends on our faith in what God has done 
in raising Jesus Christ from the dead and not on any good behavior of our 
own.


MARK 8:31-38                           Jesus taught his disciples about 
his impending death, but Peter rebuked him.  He still did not understand 
the kind of Messiah Jesus had chosen to be.  Mark's narrative goes on to 
quote Jesus instructing not only the disciples but the crowd as well about 
the cost of discipleship.  They must follow him all the way to the cross 
and beyond.  By so saying, Jesus made it clear that he was a different 
kind of Saviour that his fellow Jews expected.  Israel did not have any 
concept of a suffering Messiah, although Christian adapted the prophecy of 
the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 for this purpose.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS

GENESIS 17:1-7,15-16   The legend of Abram's and Sarah's names being 
changed to Abraham and Sarah has little meaning apart from God's covenant 
promise which went with it.  All subsequent history of the Jewish people 
rests on this promise.  They were to be God's people.

Today, two other religious traditions, Christianity and Islam, also trace 
their origins to Abraham and Sarah.  With Judaism, these three form the 
majority of the world's total population of six billion.  Despite our many 
divisions and frequent conflicts, does this not say something about God's 
sovereignty over the history of our time and all time?  Is this the 
meaning of the covenantal promise in vss. 6-7?  Is it not at least 
something we should ponder as we move through the Lenten season? What on 
Earth is God doing?  Why has God made covenant with humanity – ordinary, 
sinful human beings such as we are?

It should be noted that according to the documentary theory of the 
Pentateuch this particular story was part of the so-called Priestly 
document written by a school of priests that forms the framework for the 
whole Book of Genesis.  At least two earlier documents, called J and E 
after the distinctive names Jahweh and Elohim used in each, were fitted 
into this framework to create the present text.  This editorial work was 
done in the 5th century BC, long after Israel's return from exile in 
Babylon and more than a thousand years after the presumed time of 
Abraham's migration to Canaan.  

Much scholarly debate continues as to the historicity of Abraham.  The 
most extreme views banish him to the status of a fictitious hero of the 
post-exilic or Persian period (539-330 BCE), or even later in Hellenistic 
times of the late 4th century BCE.  The intent of this theological fiction 
was to create a new sense of self-identity among the Jewish people thus 
bringing about harmony among the returning exiles and the peasant classes 
who had not been transported to Babylon.  Strictly orthodox Jewish 
interpreters, on the other hand, depend on vs. 8 as the charter for 
"Eretz-Israel" and the ideological foundations of modern Zionism.  Many 
Christian scholars still hold to the more conservative position that 
Abraham was at least the leader of a tribe that migrated from the Upper 
Euphrates River valley (Haran) to Canaan circa 1750 BCE.  One scholar has 
identified at least twenty-two separate episodes in the Abraham saga in 
Genesis 11:27 to 25:11.  This reading is but one of those episodes.  (See 
L Hicks.  *The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary* vol.  I.16) 

Without question, second only to Moses, Abraham was the hero of NT 
authors.  Twice he is regarded as the father of the impious (Matt.  3:9; 
John 8:39), but more often as an inspiration to Jews to live up to their 
spiritual heritage as people of faith (Luke 19:9; 16:24; Heb. 6:13).  In 
Galatians 3:7 Paul cited him as father of all believers and so a source of 
unity and harmony.  This attitude offers hope for greater respect and 
dialogue rather than conflict and dissent among Jews, Christians and 
Moslems today.


PSALM 22:23-31   There is a possibility that this part of the psalm is 
actually a separate hymn of praise and thanksgiving unrelated to the 
lament of the first part.  It may also have served as a liturgy for anyone 
who came to give thanks for deliverance from affliction.

The first few verses of this reading presents some insight into the common 
practices surrounding a thank offering in the temple.  Rejoicing in 
deliverance from distress, the worshipper invites the gathered 
congregation to join him in praise as he offers his sacrifice.  The 
invitation includes sharing in a feast, or at least the eating of a 
portion of the sacrifice, possibly meat, sweet cakes or fruit.  It may 
only have been a token and symbolic meal such as we share in the 
celebration of holy communion.

The psalmist, however, has a more universal understanding of what happens.  
Not only is this act of worship and praise to Yahweh shared by those in 
attendance at the time.  It is for all people and for all time because 
Yahweh is sovereign over all (vss. 27-28).  And not only the living, but 
the dead will join in the worship (vs. 29) and so also shall the unborn 
(vss. 30-31).

The psalm as a whole reflects the lament for the terrible tragedy of the 
Babylonian exile and the hopeful universalism of Second Isaiah.  Like the 
various NT descriptions of the Passion of Christ and the theological 
insights of the Epistles, vss. 1-22 speak of hate-filled hostility and 
horrible suffering.  Yet vss. 23-31 bring out the triumphant note of 
thanksgiving and praise for deliverance from affliction efficacious for 
all people of faith.  It is highly probable that this psalm typified for 
the NT authors what Jesus has done for us.  Hence the quotations from vss. 
7, 8 and 18 in the Passion story in all four Gospels and the underlying 
motif of Paul's Christology.


ROMANS 4:13-25   Paul had a difficult task in writing to the Roman 
Christian community.  They were unknown to him.  He may have met some of 
them in his travels, but by and large he did not know them personally.  He 
did know, however, that like so many other communities of faith he had 
founded in Asia Minor and Greece, they were a mixed group of Jews and 
Gentiles drawn from many different backgrounds with very little in common.  
He also carried with him the weight of his own background.  A Jew of the 
Diaspora, he had sensitivity toward Greek-speaking Gentiles.  As a 
thoroughly trained rabbi of the Pharisees, he knew the Torah intimately as 
well.  Then too, his mind and heart had been profoundly transformed by his 
conversion to Christ and his many years as a missionary apostle since that 
tumultuous experience on the Damascus Road.  

All of this personal and religious history comes to bear on this passage.  
Paul's argument here is that God's promise to Abraham (our Old Testament 
lesson) had special meaning for the Roman Christians.  As for the 
patriarch, faith in God, not keeping the law, made the promise effective 
for them.  Faith works in the same way for us.  Our being given a right 
relationship with God (Paul calls it 'justification') depends on our faith 
in what God has done in raising Jesus Christ from the dead and not on any 
good behavior of our own.

Note how many times Paul used the word *faith* in this passage - seven.  
*Believe* occurs three more times and *promise* five times.  Isn't faith 
an extremely fragile basis to depend on for anything, let alone one's 
eternal justification, a permanent relationship with the Creator of the 
universe? If one does not have faith in what God has done for us in Jesus 
Christ, like Abraham, we are as good as dead.  Isn't that rather 
contemptuous of all we "enlightened" people have achieved in making life 
wholesome and worthwhile in the past two or three hundred years? 

A friend of mine once was asked, "What happens to those who died without 
believing?" His blunt answer went right to the point, "They're dead." 
Edward Fitzgerald put it more poetically in his sardonic work *The 
Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyim*: "Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend, 
Before we too into the Dust descend, Dust into Dust, and under Dust to 
lie, Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and - Sans End."

On the other hand, Paul's conviction was based on his own faith and many 
generations of the Hebrew faith tradition behind him.  Yes, this was a 
whole new interpretation of the Torah.  But this was for Paul precisely 
the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  He knew from 
painful personal experience how deadly every attempt to achieve 
righteousness acceptable to a Holy God could be.  He also knew that the 
Gentiles' ignorance of the Torah did not necessarily exclude them from the 
gracious love of God so fully revealed in Jesus.  Yet both could be come 
heirs of God's promise to Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ (vss. 16-
17).

This is the heart of the Lenten message for our generation.  We no longer 
put much stock in faith or in holy living, particularly in our 
complacently prosperous part of the world.  We have done so well in 
mastering our economic problems.  We change governments without violent 
revolutions and political instability.  We have become so self-sufficient 
and so self-righteous about our success.  Who needs faith, God, salvation, 
holiness, or Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? These have become foreign 
words to our generation.

For Paul and for all people of faith that is not our true inheritance.  We 
have lost our sense of sin and our need for redemption.  We are 
dangerously close to being spiritually dead.  According to the Genesis 
story, Abraham was a hundred years old when he received the promise that 
he would inherit the world (vs. 13).  A hundred years from now, we shall 
all be dead and the world will not remember very much of what we have 
achieved.  Our vaunted prosperity may have passed to some other part of 
the world in control of other people.  Will Edward Fitzgerald's rhyme then 
be our lot? How then can we justify our existence?

The point Paul makes in this passage is that we don't need to justify 
ourselves.  We need faith, like that of Abraham, like that of Paul 
himself.  Faith in God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead alone 
justifies living creatively in the world as it is right now.  


MARK 8:31-38   When Jesus taught his disciples about his impending death, 
everything he said had little or no meaning for his disciples.  Peter 
rebuked him because he still did not understand the kind of Messiah Jesus 
came to be.  In a sense, he was yet one more temptation in the way Jesus 
had chosen.  Israel did not have any concept of a suffering Messiah.  
Their view was that of a messianic king who would achieve a military 
victory over Israel's enemies and bring in a golden age of peace and
prosperity.  Even the Suffering Servant of Second Isaiah (Isa. 40-55) with 
its prophetic and salvific mission cannot be regarded as anything like the 
Messiah the New Testament authors had in mind.  That synthesis only came 
to fruition in the person of Jesus.  We need to be very careful not to 
impute the New Testament view of the Messiah to the works of Old Testament 
prophets centuries earlier.  Rather, the NT authors appear to have 
searched the OT for proof-texts to sustain their interpretation of a 
suffering Messiah that ultimately had come from Jesus himself.  As John 
F.A. Sawyer, of the University of Newcastle on Tyne, England, wrote in 
*The Oxford Companion to the Bible* (1993): "The notion that his suffering 
or self-sacrifice is in itself saving is given unique emphasis in 
Christian messianism."

Peter was the putative leader of the apostolic fellowship and, for Mark's 
audience, the now martyred "prince of apostles."  In rebuking Peter, Jesus 
reiterated the discontinuity between his messianic role and that perceived 
by his chief opponents, the Pharisees.  They were becoming the dominant 
interpreters of the Jewish religious tradition at that time.  They had 
developed a view with four main characteristics: a monarchic messiah of 
impeccable Davidic ancestry; a messiah who would be preceded by the return 
of Elijah; a messiah whose arrival would be accompanied by many signs and 
wonders; and one whose prophetically announced mission would be 
accomplished during his own lifetime.  In his many clashes with the 
Pharisees, Jesus discounted his own fulfilment of these qualifications.  
Above all else, for the Pharisees his crucifixion would totally abrogate 
any messianic role.  The majority of Jews followed them in this regard.  
Peter spoke not only for himself, but also for most people of that time.

Mark's narrative goes on to quote Jesus instructing not only the disciples 
but the crowd as well about the cost of discipleship.  They must follow 
him all the way to the cross and beyond.  By so saying, Jesus made it 
clear that he was a different kind of Saviour.  It also communicated to 
Mark's audience in Rome essentially the same message that Paul's letter 
had conveyed.  The gospel proclaimed by the apostolic church revolved 
around faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Such faith 
not only would be costly in terms of this world's values.  Christian 
discipleship required sacrificial commitment that inevitably could lead to 
death.  Even worse, however, was to deny their faith, a very current issue 
for the Roman community with its cult of the emperor.  That would 
effectively end every hope of redemption and eternal life when Christ 
returned in glory (vss. 36-39).  The issues involved in being a faithful 
disciple could not have been stated more clearly.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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