THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM AND SARAH – Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

February 25, 2024

Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19 (116:9)
Romans 8:31b-34
Mark 9:2-10

Three of the world’s great religions honor Abraham as an ancestor and exemplar of faith. Jews hold Abraham and his wife Sarah in esteem as parents of their people—a nation chosen and set apart by God’s covenant with them. Muslims likewise regard Abraham as father to the Ishmaelite Arab people, with Hagar as their foremother.

Christians revere Abraham and Sarah not as parents by blood but as ancestors in faith. Followers of Jesus acknowledge the covenant that the Holy One made designating the descendants of Abraham and Sarah as God’s own people. Yet the favor that God extended to Israel is for the benefit of the larger human family. God tells Abraham that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3) and that he and Sarah will “give rise to nations” (Gen 17:16; see 17:4-6).

The new covenant that God has brought about in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus does not replace the covenant with Abraham but rather stands in continuity with it and expands its scope. In Christ God has made a covenant that embraces not just one nation but people of every nation, race, and language.

Baptism is the preeminent sign of this new covenant. In the water, we participate in Christ’s paschal mystery, dying to sin and rising to new life. As we journey during Lent with candidates for Easter baptism and prepare to renew our own baptismal covenant, God’s relationship with Abraham and the example of Abraham’s faith offer some rich food for reflection.

We know very little about Abraham and Sarah before they received God’s call. They did nothing to earn God’s favor. It was God, not they, who made the first move, choosing them and establishing with them a covenant. God set no preconditions, but simply declared this new relationship and promised blessings to them and to their descendants.

Similarly, baptism is first of all an action of God, who plunges us into the dying and rising of Jesus. The new life of baptism is God’s gift. The Holy One chooses us and incorporates us into God’s holy people based solely on the free gift of grace, not on any merits of our own.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul cites Abraham as an exemplar of faith because he trusted God as he lived by the covenant relationship that God had established. He and Sarah packed up their entire household and made their home in a new land to which God had directed them when they were told, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Even though they had no heir and were advanced in years, they believed God’s promise of a son (but not at first). Several years later, Abraham demonstrated his utter trust in God when he was commanded to take his only son to be sacrificed, showing unwavering obedience before he was restrained by an angel at the last moment.

The new life that we receive in baptism is God’s gift to us, something that we could never earn or achieve. Living into the baptismal covenant, however, requires us to embrace the way of Christ daily, to embark on a journey of discipleship that will include disappointment, failure, suffering, and death: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). That kind of life is possible only if we have faith like Abraham and Sarah, trusting that God will lead us and remain with us as we step into the unknown.

A Hymn for Today: “Faith begins by letting go”

Former Hymn Society Executive Director Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS, has created this reflection on faith, not as assent to a set of propositions, but as a willingness to place our complete trust in God. In Glory to God (PCUSA, 2013), Daw comments on his own text: “This text affirms that faith is not a state of being but a process of becoming what we are called to be in relationship to God, other people, and the world. The movement from one stage of faith to another is suggested by gestures of the hand: letting go, holding on, reaching out.” Listen here.

Faith begins by letting go,
giving up what had seemed sure,
taking risks and pressing on,
though the way feels less secure:
pilgrimage both right and odd,
trusting all our life to God.

Faith endures by holding on,
keeping memory’s roots alive
so that hope may bear its fruit;
promise-fed, our souls will thrive,
not through merit we possess
but by God’s great faithfulness.

Faith matures by reaching out,
stretching minds, enlarging hearts,
sharing struggles, living prayer,
binding up the broken parts;
till we find the commonplace
ripe with witness to God’s grace.

Text: Carl P. Daw, Jr., b. 1944. © 1996, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: God’s covenant with Abraham, late medieval stained glass, St. Anne’s Chapel, Great Malvern Priory, Worcestershire, UK

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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