Gen. 17: 1 - 7, 15 - 16

[T]he LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless." (1) [W]alk before me, and be thou perfect. (KJV) That is a tall order. To walk before God is to remain constantly in YHWH's presence, to stay where you can always be seen. Psalm 139 comments on that, as does the children's Christmas song:

It is enough to give us the creeps. It certainly does provide the incentive to be blameless and perfect, but how can we expect to be? We are human, right? And we all know what that means; Paul summed it up in Rom. 3: 10(2). The lesson from Scripture is clear: we are bound to mess up; no way can we live up to God's order. Therefore, since that truth comes from the Bible, we must ask: are YHWH's expectations unrealistic? Or is El Shaddai setting us up?

The evidence undeniably points in that direction. But we cannot envision God either being unrealistic or playing games with us. Might something else be wrong here? Perhaps it is our translation from the Hebrew. "Perfect" and "blameless" are certainly valid renderings, but consider the word's basic meaning and derivation (from Strong's Concordance Dictionary):

"Walk before me and be complete, fulfilled." Does that make more sense?

To walk before YHWH has a couple of other meanings. First, since we cannot possibly second-guess God, how can we stay in front? Well, we may not know exactly where God is going next, but we surely do have an idea where YHWH will not go. Second, to walk before God is, in a sense, to be an "advance-man", messenger: one who prepares the way, as in Isa. 40: 3 - 5.

"Go where you feel certain that I would, bringing people the message of my grace, and you will be whole."

Psa. 22: 23 - 31 [24 - 32]
Like many Psalms, this one is in three parts: reflection [2-19], petition (here ending with a vow) [20-23], and proclamation (a fulfilment of the vow) [24-32]. As can be expected, the parts are relative to and inform each other. Pastors concerned with Paul's Gospel: we preach Christ crucified (1Cor. 1: 23, KJV), will want to study the whole text, because the first part is strongly associated with our Lord's passion; many of the verses are cited in the Gospels. How does today's reading relate to Christ's passion?

Ouch! If anything, this sounds totally contradictory. If God did not scorn or spurn Jesus on the cross, then why did He cry: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mk. 15: 34)

Again, the resolution lies in our interpretation. Was Jesus one of "the lowly"? The text: and was made in the likeness of men (Php. 2: 7, KJV), implies a difference. A cherry is much like a grape, but a cherry is not a grape. But when we understand "the lowly" to refer to us-- those for whom Christ died-- then it makes a lot of sense. God's face is not hidden from us; when we cry out to the Lord, God listens. Therefore:

Rom. 4: 13 - 25
It was not through law that Abraham and his descendants were given the promise that the world should be their inheritance, but through righteousness that came from faith. (13) The promise was made on the ground of faith in order that it might be a matter of sheer grace, and that it might be valid for all Abraham's descendants, not only for those who hold by the law, but also for those who have Abraham's faith. (16) [N]o distrust made him doubt God's promise, but, strong in faith, he gave glory to God, convinced that what [YHWH] had promised [God] was able to do. (20-21) [O]ur faith too is to be 'counted', the faith in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead; for he was given up to death for our misdeeds, and raised to life for our justification. (24-25)

Note especially vv. 20-21. For this is what our faith is to be, not just be like, if we wish it to be 'counted'.

Mark 8: [27-] 31 - 38

If you want to draw on the analogy of Peter's faith and ours, then the lectionary does you a disservice, cutting this story in two. But this analogy is important to us. We, like the Apostle, are "strong in faith"; we recognize Jesus and affirm: 'You are the Messiah.' (29) But also, like Peter, we are "lowly", fearful, weak, and resist accepting God's "child-abuse"(5).

Again, we need to consider our interpretation. Was the sacrifice on the cross made to please an "angry God"(6), or for our misdeeds and to prepare the way for our justification?

1. 1 Original text by Haven Gillespie.

2. 2 See b14, Feb. 27, 2000.

3. 3 TNK footnote: Or "plight."

4. 4 I read these pronouns as referring to Jesus as well as to God.

5. 5 Another misunderstanding.

6. 6 I do not think God was pleased at all, but acted from necessity out of grace.

(comments to Phil at )