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Wrestling with the Word, episode 62: Second Sunday in Lent, Year C (February 28, 2010) February 20, 2010

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Second Sunday in Lent

It might seem to us that God’s promises are simply an illusion. The daily experience of life often stands in stark contrast to what God has promised. This Second Sunday in Lent announces in several different ways that the promises of God are sure, unconditional, and often delivered in surprising ways. Faith in such a God requires our trust in spite of our experiences and our prayer of submission to let God be God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 62: Second Sunday in Lent, Year C.


Psalm 27
The psalm is both a song of trust and a lament. The two parts change so abruptly between verses 6 and 7 that some scholars think they are two different psalms written in different circumstances by different people. Whether or not they were originally separate, the two parts express a powerful dynamic of faith. Even the person of faith, the one who expresses confident trust in the Lord and who desires nothing more than living in the temple forever, will face trials in life. Here, even in the face of persecution and desertion, the psalmist finds solace in the Lord’s invitation to “seek my face” (v. 7). The verse is similar to the experience of Jeremiah. The Lord invites that prophet who lamented his circumstances repeatedly to “seek me and find me” and promises him, “I will be found by you” (Jer. 29:10-14). The trust in that promise enables the psalmist here confess, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 13).


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
In spite of what seemed to be endless waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise, the Lord appeared to Abraham to assure him unconditionally of the promises of progeny and of the land of Canaan.

The first paragraph is usually considered to be the first instance of the Elohist source in the Tetrateuch, while verses 7-12 and 17-18 seem to be from the Yahwist. The placing of the first E material at this point connects with the promise of “a great nation” at 12:2 and points forward to the Hagar story in chapter 16 and to the repeated promise in chapters 17–18, and the birth of Isaac in chapter 21. The promise of the land of Canaan (vss. 7-18) to Abraham  first appears at 12:7.

Key Words
V. 1.  māgēn = “shield”:  The word appears as an epithet for YHWH about 15 times in the Psalms (e.g., 3:3; 7:10; 18:2, 30) but especially significant is Proverbs 30:5 where the epithet is parallel to “every word of God proves true.”

V. 1.  sekāre = “reward”:  While the word often has to do with “wages” (e.g., Num. 18:31; Deut. 15:18, 24:15), it sometimes has to do with an unmerited gift from God (return from exile at Jer. 31:16; Isa. 40:10 and salvation at Isa. 62:11).

Vv. 3-4.  The practice of a slave inheriting a man’s estate seems to have parallels in other ancient Semitic cultures, especially in Nuzi (ANET, 219).  Apparently, contracts were made by which a slave would take care of persons in their old age in exchange for the right to inherit the estate upon their death.

V. 6. wehe’emin baYHWH wayyachsebehā lô tsedāqâ = “And he believed in the Lord, and he (YHWH) reckoned it to him as righteousness”: Abraham’s faith is the recognition and acceptance that the Lord’s promise of progeny would come to fulfillment only by surrendering his own plans to achieve an heir. The faith would provide for the Apostle Paul a key to understanding and explaining how God reckons righteousness to people apart from their obedience to the law (Romans 4:3-25). At Galatians 3:6, Paul indicates that people of faith are “the children of Abraham,” and as recipients of the promise of God, baptized Christians are “Abraham’s offspring” (Gal. 3:29). The words “count as righteousness” appear at Deuteronomy 24:13 for a person who restores to a debtor before nightfall a coat that the debtor offered as a pledge. Further, at Psalm 106:31, the same expression describes Phinehas who stopped a God-sent plague among the people who had rebelled against YHWH in the wilderness. Perhaps, more important is the similar expression “declared righteous (or innocent)” as a result of the Suffering Servant’s righteousness at Isaiah 53:11.

Vv. 9-10.  See a similar rite at Jeremiah 34:18-19.

V. 17.  tannûr ‘āšān welappîd ’ēš = “a stove of smoke and a torch of fire”:  The combination indicates a theophany, i.e., a God-appearance (see the use of fire at Exod. 3:1-6; and of smoke and fire at Exod. 14:24; 19:16ff.) and specifically the “stove” as a symbol for YHWH’s presence at Isaiah 31:9.

V. 18. bayyôm hahû’ kārat YHWH ’et-’abrām berît lē’mōr = “On that day YHWH made a covenant with Abram, saying”: The expression “cut a covenant” (here) is one of several ways to mean “make a covenant.” The expression might have originated in the practice of cutting up an animal (or more) as described in verses 9-10). The content of the covenant here is a promise of God in which God laid no obligation on Abram (see also Gen. 9:11-17; 17:2; 2 Sam. 23:5).


Philippians 3:17–4:1
Since God calls Christians to be in but not of the world, we are called to stand firm in the Lord even in the midst of worldly values.

Date and Place of Composition
According to 1:12-18 the letter is written from a prison cell, either in Rome about 61-62 (the traditional view), in Corinth about 54-55, or most likely in Ephesus about A.D. 55. Paul faced charges which could have resulted in his execution, and so this situation accounts for the “last will and testament” tone here.

Key Words
V. 20.  politeuma = “homeland, commonwealth”:  The word appears only here in the NT.  For Christians as citizens of the new age, the reign of God, see 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11 (cf. 1:3, 17, 23); Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:13, 16.

V. 20.  sōtēra = “Savior”:  This is the only time Paul uses this word, and it is used for a future hope. For Paul’s view of “salvation” as eschatological deliverance versus “justification” as a present gift, see Romans 5:1, 9-10.


Luke 13:31-35
Even in the midst of royal threats, Jesus laments for those who are bringing God’s judgment on themselves and simultaneously points to his own arrival in Jerusalem, at first glorious then tragic and then glorious again.

Parallel at Matthew 23:37-39 with vv. 34-35 although vv. 31-33 are unique to Luke.

This narrative occurs as Jesus is journeying through towns and villages to Jerusalem (13:22).  Jesus had just finished teaching about the inclusion of many and the exclusion of some in the coming kingdom of God, concluding with the familiar “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (v. 30).

Key Words
V. 32.  “that fox”: The word is a reference to Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. until A.D. 39.  Luke mentions him by title in connection with the introduction to John the Baptist and the ensuing baptism of Jesus ((3:1). His evil hand has already been at work by his beheading John the Baptist, a hint of his contemptuous role in Jesus’ trial (23:6-16, especially vss. 10-11; Acts 4:27).

V. 34.  “Jerusalem, killing the prophets”:  Because of a tradition about the invincibility of Jerusalem, the city could not tolerate challenges or threats to its security (see Jer. 26). The prophet whose death is recorded in the OT is Uriah, the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim.  Because he prophesied “against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah” (Jer. 26:20-23), he was executed by King Jehoiakim. Jeremiah escaped the same fate because of the intervention of the people and the princes who reminded the priests and the prophets that when Micah prophesied against the city a hundred years earlier, King Hezekiah did not kill him.

V. 35.  aphiemi = “leave”; Here the word means “is abandoned”:  For imagery see 1 Kings 9:7-8; Jer. 12:7; 22:5; Micah 3:12; and differently, Psalm 69:25.

V. 35.  “Blessed …”:  The OT quotation is Psalm 118:26 where reference is to the righteous ones who enter Jerusalem in the name of the Lord and where a festal procession proceeds through bound branches leading to the altar. The verse appears again at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at Luke 19:38 and parallels, but there Luke changes “the one” to “the King.” While the psalm here and at 19:38 points toward Palm Sunday, we will use Psalm 118 on Easter Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter.