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Wrestling with the Word, episode 10: First Sunday in Lent, Year B (March 1, 2009) February 15, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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First Sunday in Lent

As we begin to discuss the Sunday lessons for the season of Lent, we encounter some powerful passages that enable us to realize—not only that we are walking with Christ through his sufferings but, above all, that Christ is walking with us through our sufferings and promising light at the end of the tunnel. The lessons for this First Sunday in Lent are vivid demonstrations of that experience. The psalm was written for, and used by, troubled and persecuted people who realized that they were hopeless if left to their own doings; hope lay in calling on God to “remember” them in grace. The story of Noah assures that God will “remember” the everlasting covenant God made with all humankind after God delivered the ark-load of living things from the devastating waters of the flood. The water of baptism leads to the divine declaration about the identity and purpose of Jesus, both of which Satan challenges. And the water of baptism is the vehicle by which God gives to Christians the hope of resurrection, even in the midst of the trials of persecution.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 10: First Sunday in Lent, Year B.

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Psalm 25:1-10
The acrostic psalm is an individual lament on the part of a person who turns to the Lord for help and consolation. The psalmist is “lonely and afflicted” (v. 16) and cries out for forgiveness (v. 18). In typical lament terms, the petitioner seeks safety from enemies (vss. 2, 19) and calls the Lord to “remember” (vs. 7). The psalmist’s trust in God and the profound piety out of which he/she speaks illustrates confidence that only with the Lord is faithfulness (steadfast love = covenant loyalty, vss. 7, 10). That confidence arises from what the community has experienced, namely, that those who wait for the Lord will not be put to shame (vs. 3). What the petitioner seeks from the Lord is instruction to live rightly (vss. 4-5), because the Lord is known to teach the afflicted. He/she asks the Lord to “remember me” with divine grace rather than by the person’s past deeds (vs. 7).

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Genesis 9:8-17
Aware that the future of the earth cannot depend on human activity and faithfulness, God pledges an everlasting covenant and a sign that never again shall the earth be destroyed by water.

Context
In Genesis 6 God decided to put an end to the human race because they corrupted the whole earth with their wickedness. Only Noah was warned, instructed to make an ark, and take on board his immediate family and a representation of all living species. The flood lasted a long time, and it appeared everything, including the ark, was lost. Then God remembered Noah and the contents of the ark and shut off the spigots. When the ark landed on dry ground, God gave Noah and his wife the same blessing given to the first humans: “Be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” The Lord realized that the human heart could not be trusted, and so God promised without condition to maintain the earth for habitation.

Key Words
Vv. 9, 11. wa`anî hinnî mēqîm ‘et-berîtî ‘ittekem = “And as for me, I am establishing my covenant with you”: among the many possibilities for the verb, this one, namely hēqîm, signifies the writer as the Priest.

V. 12. zō’ ’ôt-habberît = “this is the sign of the covenant”: the Priest elsewhere uses signs as a way of confirming the promise of the covenant; see the circumcision at Gen. 17:11. What is unusual here is that the sign is used for God to remember the promise, whereas the sign of circumcision appears to be a reminder to the people involved and a mark of identity.

V. 13. ‘et-qaštî nātattî be‘ānān = “my bow I will set in the clouds”: the bow was one of the major weapons that Marduk took to battle against Tiamat. Yahweh generally uses other weapons such as hailstones (Josh. 10) or hornets (Deut 7:20; Josh. 24:12) or wind (Exodus 14; Ps. 48). Likely, then, the bow here is not a weapon.

V. 16. berît ‘ôlām = “covenant of eternity”: other “everlasting covenants” in the OT are the one with Abraham (Gen 17:7,8,19), with Phinehas (Num. 25:12-13), with David (2 Sam. 23:5). The oaths God made to these individuals obligate only God. Any arrangement based on human cooperation could hardly be everlasting, especially considering what the Lord had acknowledged at 8:21. See the new covenant at Jer. 32:40.

Vv. 15, 16. wezākartî ’et-berîtî = “and I will remember my covenant”: the promise is God’s response to the cry of the laments that God remember what he had done or promised in the past. The primary characteristics were (1) lament over the silence/absence of God, (2) the question “How long?” would the silence continue, and (3) the calling upon God to “remember” promises and actions of old (cf. Ps. 74:18, 20, 23; 89:47, 50).

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1 Peter 3:18-22
In face of his readers’ imminent persecution because of their faith, the author announces that Jesus Christ died for them to bring them to God and was raised to serve as Risen Lord, leaving them with the gift of baptism by which they are saved even now and for the resurrection to come.

Context
Whether the letter was composed by Peter just before the persecutions under Nero in A.D. 64 or later at the time of another persecution, the theme of trouble brewing occurs at 1:6-7; 3:16-17; 4:12-19; 5:9. The author has addressed the letter to the “exiles of the dispersion” (1:1). The writer has announced that the Christians have been “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … through the living and abiding word of God” (1:3, 23). The result of that new birth is their “exile” in the world (cf. Phil. 3:20), an identity that calls them to live honorably in the midst of others in the world.

Key Words
Vv. 18-19. The verses are probably a hymn on the basis of its structure, proclaiming the suffering and death of the righteous (Christ) for the unrighteous (humanity). The words hoti gar Christos hapax peri hamartiōn epathen = “for Christ suffered for sins once for all” call to mind the vicarious suffering of the servant in Second Isaiah 52:13—53:12. At 2:24 the author alludes to Isa. 53:5-6, 12.

V. 19. en hō kai tois phylakē pneumasin poreutheis ekēryxen = “in which, going to the spirits in prison, preached to them”: The notion that Jesus ministered even to the dead (those in Sheol) appears again at 4:6, indicating that those who have already died might experience the blessings of new life.

V. 20. diesōthēsan di’ hydatos = “saved through water”: The author alludes to the salvation of Noah and his family in order to lead to the use of water in Christian baptism which saves the readers “now” by their being born anew as exiles (1:1, 3, 17, 23). This new birth leads to resurrection, an imperishable inheritance (1:4, 23) and thus provides hope to those in times of persecution.

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Mark 1:9-15
Baptized as God’s Son and tempted by Satan, Jesus acts out his identity by announcing the good news of the kingdom’s nearness and exhorting the hearers to repent and believe.

Context
Addressing his gospel to readers in the mid-sixties when danger and revolt encompassed both the Jewish and Christian communities in Israel, the author combines tightly the sequence of baptism-temptation-ministry. This beginning of the story about Jesus introduces the entire gospel.

Key Words
V. 11. su ei ho huois mou ho agapēs, en soi eudokēsa = “You are my son, the beloved; in you I am well pleased.”: The words “You are my son” convey the formula at Ps. 2:7 where God adopts the Davidic (Messianic) king on coronation day in Jerusalem. The combination of the words huois and agapētos as “beloved son” occurs in the LXX only at Genesis 22: 2, 12, 16 where the expression refers to Isaac at the time he is to be sacrificed. The final expression “in you I am well pleased” recalls the description of the Servant of Second Isaiah as the Lord seems to introduce him to the heavenly court; the identity of th Servant seems to be Israel in exile (cf. Isa. 41:8-9).

V. 12. kai euthus = “and immediately”: The word euthus occurs frequently in Mark, providing a sense of urgency; see also vv. 18, 20, 21, 23, 29, 30, 42.

V. 13. “tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him”: In OT Satan is one of the heavenly court of God who tests faith (see Job 1; Zech 3:1ff) and at times leads someone to commit an iniquity (1 Chron. 21:1). In the intertestamental period he became the leader of the forces who oppose God’s reign. Coexisting with the wild beasts points to the Messianic reign of harmony (Isa. 11:6-9); for the angels, see Job 5:22; Ps. 91:11-12.

V. 13. kai ēn en tē erēmō tesserakonta hēmeras peirazomenos hypo tou satana = “and he was in the wilderness/desert forty days, tested by Satan”: In OT Satan is one of the heavenly court of God who tests faith (see Job 1; Zech 3:1ff) and at times leads someone to commit an iniquity (1 Chron. 21:1). In the intertestamental period, Satan became the leader of the forces who oppose God’s reign. On the other hand, the LXX uses the same word for “test” to describe God’s activity, as in the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22:1), of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exod 20:20) and during her 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:1-2). Such testing by God is even desired by a person who regards God’s testing of faith as the way to growth and maturity (Ps. 26:2; cf. Job 5:17 where the resulting blessings include peace with the animals).

V. 13. kai ēn meta tōn thēriōn = “and he was with the animals”: Coexisting with the animals points to the creation story of Genesis 1 (Gen. 1:24, 25, 30), to the blissful condition of the one God reproves (Job 5:22-23), and to the Peaceable Kingdom of the Messianic reign (Isa. 11:6-9). Conservation International is one of the organizations today that tracks the well-being of animals and other species of life on the earth.

V. 13. kai hoi aggeloi diēkonoun autō = and the angels ministered to him”: Such an angelic role is not common in the Bible, but see Ps. 91:11-12, a passage which Matthew (4:6) and Luke (4:10-11) cite with a quite different twist as part of their expanded temptation story.

V. 15. peplērōtai ho kairos kai ēggiken hē basileia tou theou = “the anticipated time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near”: Probably a synonymous parallelism: Jesus’ words signal the fulfillment of prophecy about the Day of the Lord and the beginning of God’s reign.

V. 15. metanoiete kai pisteuete en tō euaggeliō_ = “repent and believe in the gospel”: The kingdom’s beginning calls for the people’s response of repentance. The word euaggelion = “gospel, good news” does not appear in the Septuagint. In LXX the word appears only in verb forms for announcing such good news as the victory on a battlefield (2 Sam. 18:19-31) or the birth of an baby (Jer. 20:15).