17 March 2019
Second Sunday in Lent
Lent 2C (RCL)
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Philippians3:17 – 41
The passage from Genesis records an unusual covenantal ritual – nothing of the kind is recorded elsewhere in scripture (except an allusion in Jeremiah 34:18-20). This is clearly not a sacrifice — some of the animals are female, and three years old, and they are not eaten or burned. The allusion in Jeremiah suggests that the point of the ritual was to call God to witness an agreement and render anyone who broke the agreement like the cut animals.
If that is the case, then in this instance, God accepts alone the consequences of the broken covenant: Abram does not walk between the cut animal halves. The passage begins with God promising Abram a reward for his faithfulness in returning to the king of Sodom all of the spoils of war. Abram wonders what good this reward will be, since he has no children to inherit it. God again promises Abram countless progeny, and takes upon the divine self the consequences for breach of contract.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus has been teaching when some Pharisees warn him to flee. Jesus continues his healing and his progress toward Jerusalem. The reference to ‘the third day’ connects this episode to Jesus’ passion, as does his reference to prophets dying in Jerusalem. Luke, of course, is writing after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, so Jesus’ words look prophetic: Your house is desolate for you. Again, God accepts the consequences of the broken covenant. Jesus has desired to gather up Jerusalem’s children despite the fact that it has stoned the prophets and rejected God’s message.
Jesus heals despite the threat from Herod. The covenant is lived locally, without reference to the powers that be. God promises Abram the land without reference to who has power in it now – the kings of Jerusalem and Sodom. Abram lives faithfully in the shadow of power.
Jesus ends this saying with a reference to Psalm 118, a psalm of triumph, the triumphant king returning to Jerusalem. Of course, this is the phrase on the lips of those who welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, for his own triumph, which looks so very different from what we expect.
How can we live the covenant locally, without reference to the powers that be?