The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured 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 C
GENESIS 15:1-12,17-18 The story of God making a covenant with Abraham
formed an important link in the religious tradition of Israel. When later
generations realized that they had an special relationship with God, they
read this back into their ancient sagas of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac
PSALM 27 This psalm originally existed as two separate
psalms. Vss. 1-6 are a superb song of trust. Vss.7-14 are a typical lament
seeking God's help in trouble. However it came about, the psalm still has
great value as an expression of personal trust in God.
PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1 The Philippians struggled with a problem we also
face every day: how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in a hostile
environment in which the majority of our neighbours do not share our
Paul's advice was to follow his example as he followed Christ in living in
this world, but with totally different values to guide them: "In the world,
but not of it." In 3:21 Paul refers to the hope of resurrection so that we
shall not only be with Christ, but like him when he returns.
LUKE 13:31-35 Jesus rejected the advice of friendly Pharisees
that he escape the imminent danger of Herod's persecution. Knowing full
well the risks it entailed, he had determined to end his challenge to
Israel's establishment only in Jerusalem. The pathos of his words about
the holy city showed how much he cared about the ancient traditions of his
GENESIS 15:1-12,17-18 This story of how God made a covenant with Abraham
may sound strange to our modern ears, but it formed a primary link in the
religious tradition of Israel. It is important to remind our modern
congregations that these patriarchal stories in Genesis are not history in
the sense of being a factual record of actual events. Yet the truth they
convey is valid nonetheless. It may help to briefly outline how oral
tradition lay behind the biblical record.
The stories of the patriarch's were more tribal sagas passed down from
generation to generation by word of mouth. When later generations
developed their particular theological points of view about Israel's
special relationship with Yahweh, they read this back into their ancient
sagas of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those sagas took on new
meaning and became an integral part of Israel's religious heritage,
eventually becoming part of their scriptures.
The problems Abram (not yet given his longer name Abraham - see ch.17)
faced and took up with Yahweh were those of an appropriate heir and a
territory in which to live permanently. These were tribal issues. In
subsequent centuries when the story became part of a written document, it
also became a national issue. In some respects they remain so to this day,
religiously and politically.
Scholars debate which of the several documentary sources of the Pentateuch,
J, E or D, lie behind this narrative. It is probably a composite redacted
into final form after the Babylonian exile. There is little question,
however, that the story has two parts: vss.1-6 deal with the promise of an
heir; vss. 8-21 deal the promise of land. Vs.7 links the two with the
standard formula still used to justify Israel's claim to the territory
occupied since the 7th century CE by Palestinians of Arab descent and other
ethnic backgrounds. It has been suggested that this connective was a post-
Babylonian exile addition to offset the claim of foreigners who had
migrated to or forcibly settled in the land. The argument persists that
temporary absence from the land did not abrogate the divine promise.
Vs.6 contains a remarkable statement which the early Christian church,
beginning with Paul adopted as the basis for the doctrine of justification
by faith. (Rom. 4:3, 9. 22; Gal. 3:6) For the Deuteronomist redactors,
this special relationship with God was obtained through obedience to the
law (Deut. 6:25; 24:13). That the two parties would keep the covenant gave
Israel the right to the land. On the other hand, it has been argued that
the land created the special relationship rather than vice versa.
Settlement in Canaan by the invading Israelites required the theological
myth of the covenant promise to sustain their claim.
The performing of a sacrifice sealed the covenant (vss.9-11) as a religious
transaction. This shaped all subsequent OT narratives in which the
Israelites claim to the land was in dispute. The myth provided the mandate
for the conquest of Canaan after the Exodus as well as the return from
exile in Babylon. In a sense, like Britain's Magna Carta and the American
Declaration of Independence, it formed the constitutional foundation on
which ancient and modern Israel were established.
The mysterious fire pot and flaming torch moving among the pieces of
sacrificed flesh symbolized the sacred character of the promise of eternal
possession of the land (vs.17). The extent of the territory named (vs.18)
far exceeded anything Israel actually controlled at any time. It included
the whole of the Fertile Crescent from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers and
on both sides of the Jordan River. This description was nothing short of
an imaginative claim by an enthusiast for the Davidic monarchy extinguished
by the Babylonian exile.
PSALM 27 Because of the differences in style and focus, it is thought
that this psalm originally existed as two separate psalms. Vss.1-6 are a
superb song of trust. Vss.7-14 are a typical lament seeking Yahweh's help
in trouble. Both are believed to have been composed at a relatively late
date after Israel's return from exile in Babylon. However it came about,
the psalm still has great value as an expression of personal trust in God.
Vss.4-5 lead to the conclusion that the first part came from the hand of
someone whose duties required spending a considerable amount of time in the
temple precincts. A Levite who served as a choir singer might well have
been the poet. He certainly rejoiced in his art as well as his faith.
Music has always played a significant role in public and private worship.
The latter part of the psalm has all the basic elements of a lament
pleading for divine help in a desperate situation. Vss.7-12 describe
extremely dark circumstances when the psalmist could not look even to his
parents for help (vs.10). This may be no more than a proverbial way of
expressing the depths of despair into which he had fallen. Although
everyone had deserted him, he was still sure that Yahweh would come to his
aid. He was determined to follow the path of holiness despite the attacks
of his adversaries who spread false witness against him (vss. 11-12).
In the end, his faith was his only bulwark against disaster. So in a final
exhortation he reassured himself that, come what may, Yahweh would be good
to him. The conclusion (vs.14) may be a liturgical formula similar to a
benediction at the end of a worship service. Who knows how many saints of
past generations have used it as their own source of comfort in lamentable
PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1 As this passage shows, Paul had a very close
relationship with the Philippian congregation. None of his other letters
express his love and concern for them in such intimate terms. This could
well have been due to the story told in Acts 16 that it was in Philippi
that Paul first made contact with a European community and founded the
first European congregation there.
The Philippians struggled with a problem we also face every day: how to
live as disciples of Jesus Christ in a hostile environment in which the
majority of our neighbours do not share our convictions. He faced death on
a daily basis, particularly so if, as many scholars have concluded, he
wrote this letter from prison either in Rome or in Caesarea Maritima, on
the east coast of the Mediterranean, while on his way to Rome (Acts 25-26).
Paul's advice was that the Philippians follow his example as he had
followed Christ in living in this world, but with totally different values
to guide them: "In the world, but not of it." In 3:21 Paul refers to the
hope of resurrection so that we shall not only be with Christ, but like him
when he returns. But what exactly did Paul mean by "being like Christ?"
Certainly, he did not mean it in a physical sense. Paul was sure that
we would ultimately be transformed into something similar to the "body
of Christ's glory" (vs.21). Nor did he know anything about the modern
science of genetics and the recent description of the human genome.
But even this latest scientific discovery raises many more questions
than it answers. Geneticists are now saying that all humans are 99.9%
alike in our genetic makeup and, as far as the number of genes we
have, remarkably like the fruit fly which has been of such use to
geneticists in their research. We also share a great number of
genetic traits with the chimpanzees and other members of the
anthropoid apes. Are we to conclude, therefore, that genetically
speaking, Jesus' humanity was almost identical with ours? That's a
theological conundrum, isn't it?
As always, Paul was speaking in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.
It is the essence of the gospel Paul and all NT authors proclaimed
that the life we have in Christ is spiritual, created by the gift of
the Holy Spirit. This gift comes alive in us - and it is already
there waiting to be enlivened - through our exercise of faith. It is
most effectively expressed in the love for God and others with which
we learn to live day by day.
It saddened Paul greatly that many chose "to live as enemies of the
cross of Christ" (vs. 18). The essence of sin as he saw it was to
continue to live in the spiritual dysfunctional way of selfishness,
greed, hate and pride that brought about the death of Jesus on the
cross. A so much better way lay in the way Jesus himself had lived.
That too was the way Paul himself had tried to live, however
imperfectly, since his conversion on the Damascus Road. He had said
as much in the paragraph immediately preceding this passage.
Lent is a time when we may examine our lives, confess our sins and
renew our commitment to live differently. While he knew nothing about
Lent, which did not become common in the church for another
millennium, this is the pattern Paul set before the Philippians and
ourselves two millennia later.
LUKE 13:31-35 Jesus rejected the advice of friendly Pharisees that
he escape the imminent danger of persecution by Herod Antipas.
Knowing full well the risks it entailed, Jesus determined to end his
challenge to Israel's religious establishment only in Jerusalem, the
city of God for which his heart ached.
In his book, *Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography* (Doubleday, 2000),
Bruce Chilton gave a striking description of the ambivalence of many
Pharisees toward Jesus. Chilton saw Jesus as an illiterate Galilean
peasant rabbi who gathered about him a following of relatively humble
folk who lived in the villages of Galilee rather than in fishing port
of Capernaum or the larger centers of Roman culture like Sepphoris or
Tiberias. The former city had been Herod Antipas' capital, but in 21-
25 CE he built and moved his center of government to Tiberias, on the
western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus may have been conscripted
as indentured labor in Antipas' enterprise.
Some of the Pharisees were quite sympathetic to Jesus because they
felt he was defending the traditions of Moses against the onslaught of
the hated Graeco-Roman cultural influences of the larger centers.
Furthermore, according to Chilton, Jesus had been a close follower of
John the Baptist whom Antipas had executed unjustly. Antipas would
have done Jesus in too, if he could have done so without causing a
rebellion in his Galilean domain. Jesus spurned him as a sly fox
(vs.32) knowing full well that Antipas feared Jesus' power to command
significant support among his fellow peasantry as well as the more
sophisticated party of Pharisees. This tour of Galilean communities
(vs. 27) was, in Chilton's analysis, an effort to raise a large
following of disciples to take with him to Jerusalem. Some of those
to whom he appealed were Pharisees (vs. 31; 14:1), despite his
frequent clash with them because of their sharp differences about
dietary and sabbatical observances.
Acknowledging himself as a prophet (vs. 33), Jesus recognized that
Jerusalem was the centre of all Jewish culture and religious
tradition. He must go there; but he also realized what danger lay in
wait for him (vs.34). The Jewish establishment dominated all the
political and economic power structures remaining in Jewish hands.
The sacrificial rituals of the temple determined not only the keeping
of the ancient covenant of Israel and Yahweh, but every aspect of the
city's life. Jesus' desire to reform and simplify the whole system
mandated that he take whatever risk going there might involve. Yet,
like many of the great prophets before him, he knew that his mandate
came from a higher power, from Yahweh, Lord and God of all (vs.35),
who desired not great sacrifices, but profound obedience expressed in
If the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi and the
Transfiguration confirmed Jesus as Messiah/Christ, this steady
procession toward Jerusalem built the dramatic tension leading to the
final confrontation between the old traditions and Jesus' new way of
living within the covenant between Israel and Yahweh. However we may
read the story of the Passion of Christ, we cannot escape the strong
element of Jesus' conflict with the priestly establishment. To say so
is not to be anti-Semitic, but to read the gospels as they were
written several decades after the events they describe. The gospels
were written to interpret with faith what the authors had seen and
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.