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Second Sunday in Lent, Cycle C

Jerusalem and the temple in Jerusalem are prominent in many of these texts selected for Lent 2, Series C. It is in Jerusalem and at its temple that the beauty of the Lord is seen (Psalm 27). Jesus’ death and his departure from the earth will occur in Jerusalem (Luke 13:31-35), and Jesus expresses his love for the city and for its people.

Transformation is another theme present in several of these texts. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul proclaims that the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body and make it conform to his glorious body. Within the Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 promise and covenant text, Abram was said to have been transformed in a sense as the Lord caused the smoking fire pot and flaming torch to pass between the pieces of Abram’s offering and made the covenant of land and many descendants with him.

Psalm 27

This psalm of trust in the Lord includes a statement of faith (27:1), a plea for a response from the Lord (27:7-9), and an admonition to the self to wait patiently for the goodness of the Lord during the lifetime of the psalmist (27:13-14). The setting, as indicated above, is the temple in Jerusalem. Nothing is asked that is beyond the limits of this life.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Perhaps the most significant factor for us as Christians in this ancient covenant ratification story is the statement in Genesis 15:6 that Abram believed the Lord that Abram’s descendants would be like the stars, too numerous to count, and that the Lord considered Abram’s belief in the Lord to be the right relationship for the establishment of a covenant with God. The Apostle Paul drew heavily on Genesis 15:6 in building his argumentation in Galatians 3 and in Romans 4 that our belief in God will be considered the right relationship for us in the sight of God.

Philippians 3:17–4:1

This selection occurs within the sharply polemical portion (3:1–4:7) of the letter that may have been inserted here by a Pauline editor from another letter of Paul. The polemic in 3:18-19 is directed against “Christians” who claim to follow the cross of Christ, but actually are considered by Paul to be enemies of the cross of Christ. Probably they were Christians who in the opinion of Paul were compromising their Christianity by participating in certain activities of Roman Civil Religion in order to avoid the persecutions that Paul and other followers of Jesus faced and in order to benefit in material ways. In Paul’s opinion, the citizenship of such pseudo-Christians was in Rome and they were destined with Rome for destruction. Paul’s citizenship, and the citizenship of those who supported Paul against the religion of Roman patriotism and the claims of its adherents, was in heaven, in God’s kingdom, not Caesar’s, from which Paul waited for Jesus the Risen Christ (not for Caesar) as the Savior who would subject Rome, its Emperor, and everything else to himself.

We are called in our time to proclaim our Lord Jesus Christ rather than the Caesars of today as Savior, and to renounce those who, while claiming to be Christian, follow them.

Luke 13:31-35

This text is one of several in Luke that indicate that many of the Pharisees were friendly and supportive of the Jesus of history, and it is likely that many of them were. His message was also their message. In every instance in the Lukan account, however, the Lukan writer arranged the context and the situation in such a way that the Jesus of this Third Gospel turns against the Pharisees, denounces them, and embarrasses his Pharisee hosts in front of their friends, even when Jesus is a dinner guest.

With regard to the lament over Jerusalem, it is likely that the speaker here, as in Luke 11:49, was at one time the “Wisdom of God,” a supra-historical hypostasis. After the divine Wisdom calls in vain for men to follow her, she departs and will not return until the Messiah comes. Some followers of Jesus, possibly in “Q” material communities, may have seen in the resurrected Jesus the same qualities that had earlier been attributed to the “Wisdom of God.” This association was probably particularly appropriate in “Q” communities with their interests in motifs that Richard Edwards in A Theology of Q (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976, p. 84), identified as a) eschatological hope, b) wisdom teaching about the present, and c) either a reference to the prophets as models and examples or the use of the prophetic-messenger forms of speech. In the text represented in Luke 11:49 and 13:34-35 the “Q” communities probably used wisdom and prophetic forms and images in presenting their case against Jews who would not unite with them (Edwards, p. 133). Once the association of the Wisdom of God with Jesus had been made, the Matthean tradition placed the account into a Jerusalem setting after the entry of Jesus into the city and made Matthew 23:19 into a prophecy that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would not see Jesus again until they will say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Lukan writer placed the account prior to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and made it into a prediction that Jesus would not be killed until he would enter the city of Jerusalem, but that once he was there he would surely die at the hands of those whom he would have liked to have gathered together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them from danger from predators. The inhabitants of the city would have to wait until Jesus would finally go there and then they would say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Once the association of the Wisdom hypostasis with Jesus had been made, the lament became virulently anti-Jewish. Jerusalem was then accused of continuously killing the prophets and stoning the ones sent to her. The quotation based on Jeremiah 22:5 and 12:7 became external anti-Jewish condemnation, and Psalm 118:26 was given a variety of new messianic possibilities. For more details about this reconstruction of the development of this tradition, see Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic (London: SCM Press, 1961, pp. 171-173).

Since Luke 13:34-35 and Matthew 23:37-39 as they were developed within the early Church are viciously anti-Jewish with their unfair condemnation of Jerusalem for killing its prophets and in their glorying in the forsaken and desolate condition of the people of Jerusalem after 70 CE, other accounts from the Gospels should be used instead of these in the Church today to demonstrate the love and concern that the Jesus of history had for his fellow oppressed Jews. If these texts are used, they should be redacted and addressed to the Christian people of God today self-critically, perhaps in words such as follows: “O my people! O my people! How you have turned from me! How many times have I wanted to gather together your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you have not wanted me to do this.” A redaction of these verses that would reverse the process of their development within the early Church would put them back once more into a series of sayings of Jesus such as they were when they were circulated in “Q” materials.

If the reader of the lectionary is not willing to redact the texts in this way in order to reverse the process of their development, we may do so in the way in which we use these texts in the sermon or homily for next Sunday, by applying them self-critically to ourselves in the Church. Then they will have a useful impact today.

Luke 9:28-36


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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen