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Lent 2, Cycle B (2015)

Remembering the spiritual roots of grace. All the texts in different ways proclaim Justification by Grace, which is constantly and consistently with us in surprising ways, like when enduring hard times.


Psalm 22:23-31
The Psalm is a lament prayer for deliverance from mortal illness attributed to David. We note again it is unlikely that David is the author of the psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). The assigned reading focuses on the part of the Psalm in which the psalmist vows on recovery to offer a formal thanksgiving in the temple and also the song itself he will sing.
Reference to all who “fear” [yare] the Lord is not to imply that God creates terror, but that he evokes worship and obedience and calls for a proper relation with him. God is praised for caring for the afflicted and the poor (vv. 24, 26). There is a prophecy that all ethnic groups will worship him and that future generations will serve him (v. 27). The kingdom [melukah] is said to belong to Yahweh. And posterity [zera, a seed] will serve him, proclaiming his righteousness [tsedeq] to people not yet born (vv. 28-31). We should be reminded at this point that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371). Thus the term in this case could refer to a vision of a just society or merely to what happens to faithful people through God’s justifying grace.

Application: The text provides an excellent occasion to reflect on grace and the righteousness of God’s (Justification by Grace) universal outreach (that it is for all). The constancy of this love (that it is for the unborn as well as for us) might be emphasized. (This theme could be related to the theme of the First Lesson.) Another perspective could be to focus on God’s concern for the poor and afflicted (Social Ethics).


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
We have previously noted that like all five books of the Pentateuch, this Book of Origins is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This one is just comprised of three strands: 1) J, a ninth /tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); 2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and 3) P or Priestly source dated from the sixth century BC. This lesson offers an account of the everlasting covenant with Abraham and his offspring as narrated by P. (See chapter 15 for the earlier account of this covenant by J and E.)
God is identified in the lesson as El Shaddai (v. 1), the one of the mountains. This was the divine name current in the pre-Mosaic period (Exodus 6:2-3). The covenant [berith] with Abram (the establishment of a bond with God), it is said, will make him an ancestor of many nations, and the covenant will continue through the generations forever (vv. 2, 6-7). God selects Abram for no particular reason. He is to be blameless, but all he does is to do homage before God (vv. 1, 3). Abraham’s new name means “ancestor” (v. 5). His original name meant “Ab [the divine name] is lofty.” His wife, it is promised, will have a son, giving rise to great nations and peoples (v. 16). Her name is changed from Sarai to Sarah (meaning “princess”) (v. 15).

Application: This lesson provides an excellent opportunity to portray Justification by Grace through Faith in a fresh way, as God’s nurturing, and to help the flock see this word in the Old Testament appreciating how faith is enhanced by seeing God’s love active throughout time.


Romans 4:13-25
This letter of introduction was written by Paul between 54 AD and 58 AD to a church which to date he had never visited. The lesson is Paul’s discourse on the true descendants of Abraham. He begins by noting that the promise made to Abraham and his descendants is not made through the law but through the righteousness of faith (v. 13). Reference to Abraham inheriting the world is a Jewish interpretation of Genesis 12:6 (see Sirach 44:19-21). The law is said to bring wrath [orge, connoting not anger but the rightful response to what humans have done]. As such it renders faith and the promise [epaggelia] null and void (vv. 15-14). The promise to Abraham and his people must depend on faith in order that grace is guaranteed (v. 16). Abraham is deemed a model here, hoping against hope. This is in line with the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existent things that do not exist (vv. 17-18). Reference is made to Genesis 17:5 and to Abraham’s status as the father of many nations. Abraham’s faith was counted/reckoned [logizomai] as righteousness [dikaiosune], as will be the case for those who believe that God raised Jesus (vv. 22-25; cf. Genesis 15:6). Consistent with the points noted above in the Psalm regarding the righteousness of God, in Hebraic thinking the concept of righteousness has to do with God’s loyalty to his covenant in saving us and even at times later in the Old Testament era the righteousness of God construed as something bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff), much like Paul speaks of it here.

Application: This lesson is also prods us to sermons witnessing to Justification by Grace through Faith. The reference to Abraham allows us to use insights noted in the First Lesson. Or God’s propensity to give life out of death, to create out of nothing, affords opportunity to proclaim God’s grace in face of depression and in the midst of other bad times.


Mark 8:31-38
Again we consider a text in the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, likely based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source). Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12-25, 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.
The text recounts events following Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah [christos, which was the Greek term for Old Testament references to “Anointed One”] (v. 29). The same stories appear in the other Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:21-26; Luke 9:22-26). Jesus teaches that the Son of Man [huios tou anthropou] must suffer and be rejected by the elders [Sanhedrin], chief priest, and scribes (v. 31). The title functions at this point to refer to Jesus’ Passion. As used by Mark’s version of Jesus it is a way of affirming that Jesus is just a typical human being. But the title could also connote the prophesied figure of Daniel 7:13-14 whom many Jews of the era regarded as the coming Messiah.
Peter rebukes Jesus for this teaching (v. 32, an account not appearing in Luke’s version) and was in turn sternly rebuked for setting his mind on human beings (v. 33). Calling Peter “Satan” is to refer to him as an adversary of God. Jesus then continues with a discourse on discipleship, calling followers to deny [aparneomai] themselves, take up their cross [stauros], and follow him (v.34). We save [sozo, or keep sound] our lives, it seems, by losing [apollumi] them (v. 35). Those ashamed of Jesus and his words in this adulterous [moichalis], sinful generation will find the Son of Man (understood here as referring to Jesus’ role in judgment) ashamed [epaischunomai] of them when he comes in the glory [doxa] of the Father (v. 38). This warning does not appear in Matthew’s version.

Application: The text provides opportunities to condemn our sinful nature to have God do things our way and help people understand what bearing the cross involves Sanctification along with the assurance that God gives in our journey (Justification by Grace).

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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