God's Word on Sunday: God is deep within our heart and soul

  • March 15, 2024

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 17 (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)

Treaties, contracts and covenants are always in need of updating. Conditions and people change, and the longer an agreement remains in force, the more frayed at the edges it becomes. The older version is not put through the shredder — it forms the basis of the new agreement and can be considered its continuation.

Beginning in the exodus from Egypt and the experience on Mt. Sinai, the people of Israel had flourished during some periods and fallen into corruption, idolatry and injustice in others. They had always paid the price, but God had never abandoned them. A revised version of the covenant was soon in place and the people started afresh.

In a similar way, throughout its history the Church has often failed in its mission, giving way to corruption, compromise and decline. But there was always conversion, renewal, forgiveness and a way forward. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied in the early to mid-sixth century B.C., amid the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the exile in Babylon. As a consolation for all that the people were suffering, he offered a promise from God. Not only would the covenant be renewed, but it would also be different in an important way. It would be based on personal experience of God. The people would not only know about God, but they would also know God intimately and experientially. Christians later claimed that this promise was fulfilled in Jesus.

Although Christians are certainly included in this offer of a new covenant, there is no reason to think that the Jewish people are excluded or their faith rendered obsolete. This relationship is offered to all who are willing to receive it with an open mind and heart. By and large, people have not responded well to God’s offer despite the claims they make. They are pulled this way and that by a chorus of conflicting voices. They also look for God everywhere except where God can be found — deep within the human heart and soul. God is closer to us than our own breath or heartbeat. 

Despite what many may think, Jesus struggled too. Scripture tells us that He was like us in all things but sin. He felt fatigue, loneliness, disappointment, joy, anger and tenderness. And He did not want to die, for Hebrews informs us that He offered up prayers, supplications, loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him. But above all, He wanted to be obedient to God — and He was. He learned obedience through suffering, although the idea of Jesus learning anything makes some people nervous. No need — He was human as well as divine. It was through the perfection of that suffering that He became the source of salvation for all. We can learn obedience through our own suffering, and we too can become a source of help and inspiration for others. 

Throughout John’s Gospel, it was stated several times that the “hour” of Jesus had not yet come. The hour was the crucifixion, which John labelled the glorification. In a seemingly innocent exchange, some Greeks arrived and asked to see Jesus. For some reason that is unclear, this signaled that the hour had arrived. Jesus did not shrink from the implications but saw death as an essential part of life and necessary for new birth. He recognized that this was the reason He had come into the world. He warned against clinging fearfully to life for that can hinder our ability to give of ourselves.

In the end, we will lose our life anyway. But we can show our deep faith and trust in God by releasing our fearful grip on it. This prepares us for what God has in store for us. His plea for God to glorify the divine name was answered by a voice from Heaven. Jesus recognized that the voice was not for His sake, but as reassurance for those in the crowd. The ruler of this world — the devil — was being driven out.

Why would the crucifixion be seen as glorious? It was a glorification of God because it expressed God’s deep desire to embrace all humanity and creation itself. It gave Jesus great satisfaction to know that when He was lifted up, He would draw all people to Himself. This should inspire us and give us a burning desire to take part in God’s grand plan of redemption and reconciliation.