Bible Study: 2 Lent (B)

March 1, 2015

Jessie Gutgsell, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mark 8:31-33)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

This story of God giving Abraham the covenant is the second time readers hear of this same covenant-granting process. The first account of the Abrahamic Covenant can be found in Genesis 15. Scholars determined that these two accounts are from two different sources for the Hebrew Bible (the J and P sources, respectively). This duplication is common in the Old Testament. (See the creation story, and Noah and the Ark, for example). In this case, both Genesis 15 and 17 agree on the general framework of the story, but they argue over some details.

The Abrahamic Covenant is the second of the major covenants that God gives in the Old Testament. The first is the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9), and the Sinaitic/Mosaic Covenant will follow, with the giving of the Ten Commandments (beginning in Exodus 19). All of these covenants have different signs to bind them, and different people they are intended for. The Abrahamic Covenant in the passage for today promises that all those who bless Abraham will be blessed and given the gift of the Promised Land. The sign of the covenant is the name change of Abram and Sarai, and also circumcision. In Genesis 17’s account of the covenant, the reader is told that the covenant will be eternal (17:7). However, this does not mean that Abraham and the generations to come do not have work to do. This captures one of the many paradoxes of faith: Abraham is given an eternal, not conditional, promise, but he still has responsibilities.

Some significant notes about this covenant in particular are that God initiates the covenant. Not only that, but scholars have determined that, based on the covenant structure, God is the one who is actually bound by this covenant, not Abraham. In this way, it almost seems as if God is the one who is taking the risk in initiating this promise with Abraham. This is a humbling thought indeed!

Consider the covenants you have made in your life (baptismal, marriage, ordination, etc.). Who initiated those covenants? What work do you do to nurture and respect those covenants?

Has there ever been a moment in your life when something so profound happened to you that it could’ve been (or was) marked with a change to your first name? Imagine what it must have been like for Abraham and Sarah to have their names changed, especially in their old age.

Psalm 22:22-30

When reading the assigned portion of the psalm for today, it can be easy to think, “Oh, this is just another nice psalm about praise.” It can read as a fairly typical psalm, nothing really out of the ordinary. What makes this psalm extraordinary, though, is looking at it in context of the entire psalm, not just verses 22-30.

The first verse of the Psalm 22 is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus speaks on the cross in both Matthew and Mark. Directly before the point where our psalm begins for today, we find the verses “They cast lots for my clothing” (22:18), “But you, O Lord, do not be far away!” (22:19).

Read in the shadow of verses 1-21, the assigned portion of the psalm today almost explodes with meaning and praise. It’s all the more intense to offer such a resounding expression of praise, based strongly in a community, given the context of what came before. As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary put it, this psalm effectively articulates the meaning of both the cross (“My God, my God…”) and the resurrection (“May your hearts live forever,” v. 26).

Reflect on a time in your life when you experienced deep sorrow, disappointment or grief. Perhaps that time is now. Have you been able to experience and articulate joy and hope in those times? Perhaps this psalm can serve as a model for this kind of praise.

Reading this psalm in its larger context completely changed the interpretation of the psalm. What in your life do you need to consider in its full context? What are you missing by not looking at the whole picture? This could be a personal relationship, a situation at work, an issue in your faith life or something else.

Romans 4:13-25

This dense passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans is in direct conversation with our Old Testament reading for today. Paul is emphasizing here that we are all children of Abraham and Sarah (verse 16), so the covenant is thus available to Jews and gentiles.

A major theme of this passage is the importance of a certain kind of faith (the faith of Abraham), over strict adherence to the Law. (See verse 15, for example.) This is the kind of arguing that Martin Luther picked up on in the Reformation when he was arguing against the Catholic notion of works-righteousness.

Paul is insisting on a strict imitation of the faith of Abraham. What most characterized Abraham’s faith? It was his trust, as can be seen in verse 20. Abraham was an old man, “already as good as dead” (verse 19), but he remained trusting of God.

All of this – our parenthood with Abraham and Sarah, and the strong need for trust rather than strict adherence to the Law – is tied up and made complete with a faith in Christ (verses 23-25). We all have a part to play in this great salvation history.

How much do you emphasize trust in your faith life? What does that or would that look like for you? How can you have the trust of Abraham and Sarah?

When is the last time you considered what it would be like to live more focused on your life of faith than strict adherence to law and rules? Even if you don’t follow Torah, what other parts of our society do you allow to guide your decisions and life? How can you live a life more directed by your faith?

Mark 8:31-38

This Passion prediction from Mark is one of the most crucial passages in Mark’s entire gospel. The same story also appears in Matthew, but in Mark, it serves to solidify some major themes of Mark’s message. Mark emphasizes that Jesus must be the suffering Son of Man (verse 31). Crucially, though, Mark did not see this suffering as a spectator activity for Jesus’ followers. Rather, as the challenging words of verses 35-38 say, Jesus’ followers must also make sacrifices and suffer. Jesus adds at the end that his followers should not be ashamed of their faith or the Son of Man, or they will be ashamed when the Son of Man returns to earth.

The Jesus presented in this passage is often not the Jesus people feel most comfortable with. He is blunt, speaking openly (verse 32), and he’s harsh to Peter after Peter’s rebuke of him (verse 33). While Matthew also includes this story, Jesus’ language and actions here are especially characteristic of Mark’s gospel. Mark was known for presenting a less “cuddly” Jesus than many would like to find. All in all, this Passion prediction challenged the people of Jesus’ time, and it continues to challenge modern readers in uncomfortable ways today.

What is your reaction to the actions and speech of Jesus in this passage? Is this a familiar image of the Jesus you’ve been taught about in your faith life?

Re-read verse 38. Have you ever been ashamed of your faith and hidden it from your friends or family? What caused you to do this? Are you seeking to strengthen your faith and relationships so this does not have to be the case again?

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