Lent 2B (RCL)
Genesis 17:1-1, 15-16
In the adult forum, we have been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans. Much of the discourse of Second Temple Judaism focused on the figure of Moses. Moses was the perfect lawgiver, the type of the King, of the prophet and just about any other category. Wisdom lived in the Law given by Moses, and in the Temple. Of course, after the destruction of the Temple, for many Jews, she lived exclusively in the Law.
Paul, of course, is seeking a new way of being Jewish, or part of the covenant people besides adherence to the Law. He wants to set aside the exclusive parts of the law that limit the possibility of righteousness to those within the confines of the law. Moses won’t serve Paul very well as the type of the person of the covenant. So Paul reaches back over Moses to the figure of Abraham, whom God called to be the father of “many nations” not just one. What to do about those Jews who didn’t join the Messiah’s movement to open the promise to all? Well, there were the descendants of the flesh, and the descendants of the spirit. The descendants according to the flesh would come around at some point in history, but for now, the descendants according to the spirit, whose righeousness looked like Abraham’s, based on God’s faithfulness to the promise and Abraham’s trust in God’s faithfulness, lived in the promise.
Paul wants to draw the circle wide enough to include any who have the obedience of faith to the gospel. No “fleshly” category is sufficient for defining the circle: Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free — these distinctions no longer exist. God’s promise is open to all.
So, what about Peter? In Galatians, Paul tells us he opposed Peter to his face for drawing back from eating with Gentiles. Peter was expecting a Messiah (so Mark would want us to think) on the Jewish pattern — who would set things to rights again for Israel. When Jesus begins talking about suffering many things at the hands of the leaders of Israel, Peter can’t accept it. But Jesus sees this as satanic thinking; a misunderstanding.
So, calling together the crowds and his disciples, Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to follow me, let that one deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Following Jesus is not limited to the disciples, nor to Jews nor any other limiting factor. Anyone who wants can leave all behind, take up the cross and follow.
What does it mean to take up the cross? I’m on this kick after coming back from Lui. It means recognizing our dependence on God and each other, being willing to serve and be served, to let go of our self-reliance. If we hold on to that myth, if we think we can go it alone, if we mortgage our soul for that fine house, if we sell off our future for this quarter’s dividends, and focus only on the bottom line, what will we give in exchange for our lives? There is joy in letting go of all that, in being part of the family God calls into promise.