This is the second Sunday of lent and our introspection continues. Lent is a time when we reflect on our sin and brokenness while we intentionally journey toward the Roman cross that will be humanity’s final, and brutal, cruelty to Jesus. Our determination to follow will waver, and ultimately we will be asked to make the same choice that Jesus gives to the crowd in Mark’s Gospel: Mk 8:34
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Read Genesis 17:1-7 & Mark 8:31-9:1
The passage in Genesis 17 is known as the ‘circumcision covenant’ where God promises Abram that he will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. For the first time YHWH is addressed as El Shaddai, God Almighty, who covenants with Abram & Sarai so they can identify as ‘people of God’ (Gen 17:7). Abram, soon to be Abraham, is face down in deference to the majesty and power of God. God says to Abram: “l am El Shaddai; walk before me, and be blameless”. In response Abram is silent, face down in God Almighty’s presence. God’s covenant which offers a new identity for Abraham, Sarah, & their future generations is again one sided. Like the Covenant of the Pieces in Genesis 15, God shoulders the burden of both sides: where a broken covenant leads to spilt blood, blood that will not be shed by Abram or his descendants, but by Jesus.
"The covenant offers the people of Israel the gift of hope, their source of identity, and their place in the creation. The covenant between God and Abraham is a reflection of God’s relationship with all of Israel, and through Israel to the church, and through the church to each one of us." Writes Craig Kosher of Denver Seminary, New Testament lecturer.
Lent and a Covenantal relationship with the Trinity are inextricably entwined. In Lent, the Spiritual journey should take us to a place where we, like Abram, are silently face down in the presence of God. God is revealed in Jesus, who leads disciples towards a new covenant of faith. God’s covenant is not dependant on our faithfulness, but rather our faithfulness is a fruit of God’s covenant. Humility, complete dependence on God, and righteousness characterise our faith just as it characterised the faith of Abraham. For the promise that he (Abraham) would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. Romans 4
Abraham, Sarah, Israel, the church, right down to each one of us learn how impossible is it to walk blameless before God in our own strength. In Marks’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowds openly that he will suffer, be rejected and killed, words which prompt Peter to rebuke him. Undeterred, Jesus tells the crowd directly that following him will involve the same fate for his disciples which in turn will lead to new life.
It is difficult to choose the road which leads to pain & suffering, even if there is a promise of salvation. Mark’s audience would have faced this difficult choice. In 60 CE, followers of Jesus were being persecuted, rejected from their families and temple, and brutally killed for their faith. Jesus’s words reminds potential followers that the difficult choice is the only choice if they wish to follow in his, Jesus’, way.
Who do you say I am? asks Jesus (Mark 8:29), and the answer reveals the Majesty and Power of God. Knowing Jesus will change us forever, just as the passage in Gen. 17:1
“l am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” reveals the majesty and power of God which changes Abram and Sarai forever.
The invitation today is to answer the question for ourselves:
Who do you say I am? Reflect on how the answer, and our encounter with Jesus, impacts on our identity, hope and place in the created order.
In this vulnerable space, Jesus turns to each of us individually and collectively and asks the question: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Perhaps it is silently, face down in the presence of the Almighty God that we respond in our hearts through the righteousness of faith:
“With God help, we will”