2 Lent, February 25
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Are we ashamed? Are we ashamed to confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that in our father Abraham and our mother Sarah, and consummately in Christ, we have been called? “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen. 17:1).
Are we too proud to fall upon our faces at the wonder of God’s call to an old man and his barren wife? God uses their bodies, although as good as dead, for maternity and promise. It is an old story. God promises that they will be the parents of a multitude of nations and kings, exceedingly fruitful. And we inherit the promise. While we were yet dead in sin, Christ called us and died for us. He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). Our very being and salvation in Christ are, in the order of nature, impossible. “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17). But we bless the Lord as those called out of nothing, pulled from the emptiness of sin and death into a new and divinized humanity. “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.”
Our life in Christ reaches backward to the faith of Abraham, and the faith of Abraham is a proleptic sign of faith in the one before whom every knee will bow. The single ancestor of a multitude of nations is himself a sign of the singular fulfillment of human history and all creation in Christ. All nations, all kings, all people are taken up and recapitulated in the new life of Christ. The psalmist knows this: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down, before him shall bow all who do down to the dust, and I shall live for him” (Ps. 22:27-29). To “live for him” is to live for Christ. Those who worship him worship the eternal Son of the Father.
The story begins with a call. God spoke to him. “Then Abraham fell on his face” (Gen. 17:3). Prostration signals the state of his soul; he believed and his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. It is reckoned to us as well “who believe in him who raised Jesus Christ from the dead,” for faith is a single mystery. Faith is the call of God and the life God calls into being. God speaks and creates a way to walk in the world, a way to be blameless (Gen. 17:1). We say, of course, your will be done; we pray, let it be to me according to your word; we insist, not my will but your will be done, and thus human will and desire meet the will and desire of God in perfect freedom. Nonetheless, faith is ultimately the work and mystery of God.
Look It Up
Consider Karl Barth’s study, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford, 1968).
Think About It
Try page 153 of Barth: “[H]e has encountered faith, not in the course of a steady growth in experience, but through the action of God upon him, and in the vision of the crucified and risen Christ. Thus, and thus only, he is what he is—not!”