The readings today are: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8: 31-38.
The first three readings all revolve in some way around God’s promise to Abraham to make Abraham the father, with Sarah his wife, of generations and of nations, and His promise to be their God. The Gospel seems a bit ill-fitted thematically, because it seems to have nothing to do with Abraham, or with this multi-generational promise. Instead, the Gospel reading is the famous passage (“Get thee behind me, Satan!”) in which Jesus rebukes Peter for suggesting that Jesus need not suffer and die, or at least need not talk about it. After that rebuke, Jesus says that to save one’s life — or, as he then makes clear, to save one’s soul, which is of paramount importance — one must be willing to lose that transitory life for the sake of both that soul and of the Gospel.
As is so often the case, though, it is Paul who provides the analysis, or rather the insight, that provides the thematic link between Old Testament and New. He writes that God’s promise to Abraham and his heirs was made not through the law but through faith. Abraham was chosen not because he followed the law; indeed, the law — the Ten Commandments, and more broadly all of the strictures of Leviticus, etcetera — was many generations away from being revealed. Instead, Abraham was made God’s own through Abraham’s faith, meaning through Abraham’s willingness to believe in God’s seemingly bizarre promise to provide a child to him and Sarah in their quite advanced age and despite Sarah’s lifelong barrenness. (The Commandments would come later, to provide essential direction for the faithful as well as to remind the faithful of their own weakness and fallenness; but the faith came first.) It is through that faith that we receive God’s grace and his promise, a promise not of earthly dominion through generations but of eternal love and joy for the soul.
The righteousness, writes Paul, was “imputed” to Abraham because of his faith, and our heirship is the heirship of that same righteousness, a righteousness also imputed to us through our faith in the God who “raised up Jesus our Lord … for our justification.”
In that light, the key message of the Gospel passage is not the rebuke equating Peter’s misguided statement with Satanic temptation, but rather the rebuke’s deeper intended message — the message that there are higher, more important considerations than earthly concerns or even bodily life, and that our mission, as was Abraham’s, is the care, through faith, of our souls. God’s eternal covenant offered through Abraham is a covenant acting through and for our souls… if we will only leave our souls open to it.