Biblical Words 
God’s covenant sets believing servants on journeys – toward a promised land, or the city of the Passion.
. Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Lent is a season when Christians return to roots and seek renewal of basic commitments that guide and inform their life’s journey. The reading from the Torah returns to the ancestor who is celebrated for his faith commitment, Abraham (or Abram, as this passage calls him).
The story of Abraham in Genesis is divided into four unequal parts, the last three parts opened by the words “After these things…” (15:1; 22:1; ).
· The first part (Genesis 12-14) is sprinkled with brief promises that Abram’s descendants will receive the land, but mainly it shows the ancestor acquiring wealth, which is the first step in his being blessed.
· After he has become a man of substance, the issue arises of his heir, and the longest section of the story (chapters 15-21) presents various twists and turns about how Abraham will (finally) get a proper heir of his own by his main wife Sarah.
· The third part, which is a single episode, tests Abraham’s faithfulness to God by requiring the sacrifice of that heir, just acquired through great difficulties (22:1-19).
· And the last part of the Abraham story is about proper duties of an old head-of-family before his death (-25:11).
Our reading in chapter 15, which is the beginning of part two, has two scenes. Each scene has the following sequence: God states a promise, Abraham (as I will call him here) then raises some doubt about the promise, and God makes some dramatic demonstration that reiterates the promise in the most extravagant terms.
The first scene
opens the topic of Abraham’s own son as his heir. The problem here is that Abraham’s wife is
barren, and the best Abraham can expect is that the manager of his estate will
be his adopted son and heir. God’s reply
is to insist that “no one but your very own issue shall be your heir” (verse 4,
The second scene is the most solemn statement in the Hebrew scriptures of the promise of the land to Abraham’s descendants. The opening words insist that God will give “you (Abram)” this land to possess. Doubting, Abraham says, How can I be sure of this?
answer is a formal covenant ritual – a rather awesome and scary procedure. Sacrificial animals are cut in two and the
halves laid opposite each other to form a corridor. Between these parts the covenant maker walks
with the implied commitment, “If I do not fulfill my promise, may I be
slaughtered like these animals.” (The
ritual was used by
Here, remarkably, it is God who passes between the animal parts, represented by the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch. This is an absolute commitment by God, and God only. Abraham does not pass between the parts! The solemnity and awesomeness of the whole scene is emphasized by Abraham falling into a “deep sleep” and being surrounded by “a deep and terrifying darkness” (verse 12). This shields Abraham from a direct face-to-face with God – which later generations knew was forbidden.
The scene is concluded by the narrator’s simple statement of its significance: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land…’” ().
And with that statement, many ages of faith and struggle for the land were initiated.
If the Abraham scene was dark and fearsome, the Psalm reading declares that God is the light and salvation of the one who trusts.
follows a liturgical sequence:
the first part (verses 1-6) is an emphatic statement of confidence in
God’s protection for the speaker (God is Abraham’s “shield,”
The last verse of the psalm is spoken by a presiding voice overseeing the whole scene: “Wait for the Lord; / be strong, and let your heart take courage; / wait for the Lord!”
. Philippians 3:17-4:1
reading has an ending very similar to the conclusion of the psalm: “stand firm in the Lord in this way, my
beloved (ones)” (4:1,
striking phrase! Enemies of the
cross. As the rest of the passage
shows, these are not people who are outside and are not affected by the gospel
message; they are people who have heard the message, seem to have accepted it,
but who have in fact rejected it by their behavior. There apparently were such immoral Christians
around the church in
Paul had probably told the Philippians about those Corinthians who claimed to follow Christ but fed their bellies and indulged their lusts under the motto “All things are lawful to me” (I Corinthians 6:12). Opposed to this, Paul recommends that they “live according to the example you have in us” (verse 17). That example itself is from the Lord. Earlier in this letter, Paul had already exhorted them: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus … who emptied himself … and became obedient to the point of death …” (Philippians 2:5-8).
. Luke 13:31-35
reading is from that large middle section of the Gospel According to Luke which
represents Jesus as on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (9:51, where “he
set his face to go to Jerusalem,” to 19:44, where he actually enters the city
to “occupy” the temple). Much of this
“journey narrative” is about the meaning of going to
begins with what seems to be a friendly approach by the Pharisees(!). They warn Jesus to get away from Herod
Antipas (one of the sons of the Great Herod of Jesus’ birth), lest the same
thing happen to him that happened to John the Baptist. Jesus’ answer to Herod, through these
concerned Pharisees, is a little curious.
“I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on
the third day I finish my work” (verse 32,
We are not talking here about literal days. “Today” means the current time, “tomorrow” means a little longer into the future, and “the third day” means some critical time not far ahead when there will be a decisive change. Again, there is in Luke a sense of a heavenly script that is being followed; the time frame has been scripted, and Jesus enumerates the acts yet to be played out. The climax of the plot lies not far ahead, but it is not yet at hand.
But what will happen
on “the third day,” when the kairos, the critical moment, arrives? Reaching
To this episode Luke
adds the powerful lament over
The city will not again see Jesus until they cry, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (verse 35). This will happen at Palm Sunday (19:36-40), but Luke’s hearers know of a yet later time, when Jerusalem has been destroyed and they will carry the message of his coming far and wide in the Roman empire.
It is this Lord, who
today, tomorrow, and the third day, walks toward