2nd Sunday of Lent
(Gen 17:1-7, 15-16; Ps 22:23-31; Rom 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38)
God and Abraham are the parties to the second major covenant in the OT. Just as the covenant between God and Noah had a sign, the rainbow, here circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. Unlike the first covenant, however, the scope of the covenantal relationship has narrowed from all life and the earth to the life of Abraham and his progeny. He will become “the ancestor of many nations.” And although the covenant with Noah made no demands on Noah, here Abraham is charged to “walk with me [God] and be trustworthy.” (“To walk before/with God” is a metaphor for living a just and righteous life.)
Psalm 22: 27-28 affirms the importance of the nations. The poet highlights the reciprocal relationship between God and people. Whereas “Every family among all the nations will worship you [God],” “the Lord rules all nations.” God has chosen a particular lineage for a new covenantal relationship but, at the same time, God honors the importance of all people. Another writer puts it this way, “In you [Abraham] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).
Paul emphasizes the importance of Abraham as one who showed that “righteousness comes from faith” (Rom 4:13). His faith in God’s promise to him and Sarah was “credited to him as righteousness.” In that way, he was, to use the language of Gen 17, trustworthy and walking with God.
The lection in Mark seems unrelated to the texts involving Abraham, the nations, and the life of faith. Perhaps the key connection may be discerned when one observes that the word, “life,” appears four times in Mark 8:35-37. God had given new life to Abraham and Sarah in the form of their son Isaac. The gospel writer insists that new or real life is something that one can gain only after losing an earlier life and gaining a new one by becoming a follower of Jesus. Anyone who reads these verses confronts the two questions. The answer to the first one (v. 36) is probably “Nothing.” The answer to the second one ‘What will you give in exchange for your life?’ (v. 37) is less clear. How would you answer this question?
Earlier verses in the Marcan reading provide the basis for that new life: Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death, and rising. And it is to this plan that Peter objects—he doesn’t think it makes sense for the Son of Man to undergo such a fate. Jesus responds by telling Peter that he is speaking from a human perspective whereas Jesus is living out of a divine vantage point. To think about “human things” will lead to the losing or forfeiting of one’s life whereas to think about “divine things” will allow a person to find a full life as a follower of Jesus.
David Petersen is Franklin N. Parker Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Emory University. While at Emory, he was also Academic Dean at the Candler School of Theology, where he received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award.