Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 2A Readings & Commentaries

Nicodemus & Jesus
The First Reading:  Genesis 12:1-4a
The call of Abram is our first reading today. Abram and Sarai have just been introduced (11:27-32) and the simple divine command is given:  “Go.” Then follows the promise of children to the couple. Sarai had been introduced in 11:30 as “barren.” For many chapters (until Genesis 21) this promise will remain constant yet unfulfilled. Abram, however, continues to believe God and follow the command, with only one instance of wavering (Genesis 16:1-6). Thus, the story of the formation of the people of God begins with faith required despite all signs to the contrary. Lot is Abram’s nephew.

4:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121
Our psalm today is one of the “Songs of Ascent,” more than likely songs sung by pilgrims on their way to festivals in Jerusalem.  Lifting up one’s eyes to the hills may be either an allusion to the inspiration of nature or (more likely) an observation of the places of pagan worship that would have dotted the hilltops, and declaring one’s allegiance to the God of the Jerusalem Temple.

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
2   My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
3  He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5  The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
7  The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
8  The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

The Second Reading:  Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
What follows is Paul’s interpretation (or midrash) of the Abraham story. He makes much of Abraham’s decision to “go” as a decision of faith, which Genesis says “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul uses this to contrast “justification by works” and “justification by faith.” A “midrash” is a particularly Jewish form of interpretation, one which we might say attempts to “read between the lines” of the story.

4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

The Holy Gospel:  John 3:1-17
The familiar story of Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus begins a series of Gospel readings through the rest of Lent in Year A, of individual’s encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John (still to come:  the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4, the man born blind in John 9, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in John 11). Today’s reading makes most sense when one pays attention to the double entendres, which, unfortunately, depend on the Greek text, and cannot be easily seen in English translation:  Spirit/wind (the same word in Greek); “from above,” which can also be translated “again;” and the pairing of “lift up” and “crucify.”  The latter pair, juxtaposed as they are, leave the paradox of the cross, either as an exaltation or a humiliation.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission granted to copy for group study with attribution.

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