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Leaning into Lent

Genesis 1 on a mobile phone held by some in their left hand

Sunday 25th February
Year B: The Second Sunday of Lent
Liturgical Colour: Purple or Lent array


  • Psalm 22: 22-30
  • Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
  • Romans 4: 13-25
  • Mark 8: 31-38

Old Testament reading

Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis is part of the book’s wide sweep of the history of God’s relationship with key individuals from Adam and Eve to the last days of Joseph. The book has four cycles; the primordial history (chapters 1-11), the Abraham cycle (12.1-25.8), the Jacob cycle (25.19-36.43), and the saga of Joseph and his brothers (chapters 37-50).

It is really helpful to have an overview of the whole book. This enables us to put each individual part of the story into context. To do this you might read something like the 100 Minute Bible, or even easier, watch these two short videos, Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50.

However, helpful though this simplistic telling is in providing a sketch of the whole book, by nature, it ignores the very many different nuances in the writing. To explore this means taking a delve into what is known as biblical criticism. (Criticism doesn’t mean knocking it, it means digging deeper.) There are several ‘tools’ of biblical criticism that ask different questions. Two well-suited to exploring Genesis are known as source criticism, which asks what earlier sources were drawn upon when the book was created, and redaction criticism, which asks why some things from those sources were included and others left out.

Genesis was traditionally thought to have been written as a whole by Moses. Later historical scholarship identified three main sources, which it was argued had been carefully woven together into a coherent whole. These are named J, E and P. J was thought to be the source that uses the divine name YHWH, ‘Lord’ in the Hebrew text; E, the source that uses the divine name Elohim, God’, and P coming from what is known as the Priestly source. They date from the tenth/ninth, eighth and sixth centuries B.C.E. respectively.  These sources were also thought to appear throughout the rest of the Pentateuch where they are joined by a fourth source, D, Deuteronomy (meaning second law) especially, unsurprisingly, in the book of Deuteronomy.

More recently this theory has been criticised for being over-simplistic, especially in terms of the sharp division between J and E. The consensus is now moving towards the idea that several series of layers of text were added to the scripture over time rather than the four sources being ‘sewn’ together at a certain point. This would also account for some of the repetitions and differences in accounts of key events; the most obvious being creation and the flood. Of course, scholars disagree about all of this. (That is, after all, their job!)

Gospel Reading

Lent is a time for resisting temptation. Last week in the account of Jesus’ time in the desert this temptation was personified as Satan. This week Jesus uses the same language to identify the nature of the temptation via Peter’s plea to step away from his calling. He rebukes Peter for having his mind set on human rather than heavenly things. The word Satan is an English translation of a Hebrew word meaning adversary. In the Old Testament this is most obviously illustrated in the Book of Job. In the New Testament, and especially in Mark, Satan moves from being adversary to enemy. There are any number of ways of interpreting this character, from myth, to spiritual reality, to psychological, social and economic forces.


The term ‘lean into’ has become quite fashionable recently. It means a combination of ‘making a determined effort with’, ‘to embrace and experience fully’ and ‘to respond to wholeheartedly’.  God established a covenant with Abraham based upon trust and he leaned into it, forsaking what was already known and possessed for God’s promise. Jesus leaned into his calling before God, forsaking the temptation of an easier path, and invited his disciples to do the same.

I wonder what temptations we are each facing, to stay with what is known or take an easier path this Lent?  May all that is good and holy help us to lean into our calling, whatever that might be.