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God's Word on Sunday: God’s promise is already within us

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  • March 14, 2021

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 21 (Year B) Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

God gave both bad news and good news to the people of Israel.

The bad news was that the moment of accounting had come. The nation had strayed from the ways of God for some time. Prophet after prophet had brought numerous warnings. The people had periodically fallen into idolatry, so they were urged to remain faithful and loyal to the covenant with the God of Israel. They had not applied the provisions of divine law regarding care for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized.

But the final disaster was brought on by their refusal to listen to Jeremiah the prophet. He had urged co-operation with the Babylonians and had insisted that this was God’s will. Instead, they rebelled and paid an awful and terrifying price. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Most of the administrators, artisans and educated classes were taken to Babylon to begin an exile of 50 years.

Some lessons are only learned by tasting the bitter fruit of one’s mistakes and sins. But that was only half of the story. God promised to make another covenant with the people after their exile. This one would be different and easier to follow; it would be written on their hearts. They would carry the Law within, and they would not have to rely on outside instruction.

There is a great difference between knowing about God and knowing God in a direct and personal way. God was promising the latter. The people of Israel could look forward to a fresh start when they returned to their land. God would continue to be with them in a very special way.

Early Christians saw the new covenant of Jesus in this text. While it is true that our relationship with the risen Lord brings us into a relationship with God, the passage is not the exclusive property of Christians. It was meant for Israel in the time in which it was written and it is still in effect.

We are latecomers to this promise. The promise challenges us to seek more than a minimalist and superficial relationship with God and our faith. We need not seek elsewhere for what is already within us. The promise or covenant only comes to life when we accept it interiorly and apply it to our lives.

Life was not easy for Jesus, despite His status as the son of God. Jesus paid His dues, struggling and facing down temptations without sin. He grappled with the biggest challenge of all: death. Jesus did not want to die, but He did want to obey the will of the Father. It was because of His obedience and self-giving that He was exalted above every name and power. Most of all, it made Him the compassionate high priest, able to empathize with us in our own struggles and weaknesses.

We all face challenges and struggles, and we cannot simply wish them away. Rather than being bitter or angry, we can accept them as an opportunity to grow in selflessness, humility and obedience to God.

Throughout John’s Gospel, the “hour” of Jesus — His crucifixion — loomed always on the horizon. The arrival of a group of Greeks asking to speak with Him was the signal that the hour of Jesus had finally arrived.

Most people dread the hour of their death and struggle to avoid it as long as possible. Jesus used the image of a dying grain of wheat to view death from a new perspective. It is necessary; without death, there can be no new life. Despite our frantic and fearful clinging to life, it is inevitable.

Ironically, releasing the fearful grip we have on our life and trusting in God prepares the way for experiencing it in a radically different way. The eternal life promised by Jesus is not merely life in Heaven after we die, but a divine quality of life that we can begin to experience even before we leave this Earth.

The voice from the heavens confirmed Jesus’ request that God glorify the divine name. It would be glorified in the great love shown by Jesus offering Himself for the world. His selfless death would manifest glory in many ways: The world would be freed from the power of Satan, and the crucified and risen Lord would draw all people to Himself.

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