Il Spasimo, Jesus carrying the cross, by Raphael, 1516

God's word on Sunday: Covenant with God is always evolving

  • March 16, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18 (Year B) Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

Do we know God deeply and personally, or is God merely an acquaintance? 

A walk through any theological library will reveal hundreds of books and articles written about God. Theologians, believers and skeptics have created mountains of words about God, even daring to describe God’s nature and inner thoughts. 

Then why are so many people restless, anxious and assailed by doubts? Why do so many fail to follow God’s ways? 

We should be suspicious when people throw up a barrage of words about God or appear just a little too confident and all-knowing. Jeremiah wrote in the tumultuous years leading up to the destruction of the temple in 586 BC. The religious establishment was quite confident in its structures and rituals. God would surely protect the nation, but power politics and military alliances were thrown in just the same. 

Many prophets had warned, however, that the more important things — justice and mercy — had been sadly neglected. Jeremiah envisioned a renewal of the covenant, but the quality of the covenant would be profoundly different from the previous one. The people would know God directly and personally. They would not know “about” God, but would know God experientially. 

Knowing God is manifested in compassionate mercy and justice. Rather than relying on instruction from others, God would be their instructor and guide. 

Human covenants with God are continually renewed as we stumble and lurch our way through history. Times change, catastrophic events occur, and threats and challenges arise. There is no one-size-fits-all covenant. The covenant is something dynamic and evolving. 

This renewed covenant enabled the people to not only survive in exile but to thrive spiritually. They later returned home and rebuilt their nation. The covenant was also extended to all of humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

God has always offered a personal relationship to those willing to open their hearts and minds. The desire for this relationship must be present, as well as a commitment to embark on a spiritual journey in the Spirit. Human beings have no excuse. God has not departed or gone into hiding — we have.

Jesus did not want to suffer and die, but He wanted to be obedient to God’s will. Pain and suffering in themselves have no value; in fact, we always strive to eliminate them. But life will bring them on, whether we want them or not. 

Accepted with an open heart and mind, as well as a desire to walk with God, these challenges can become our spiritual teachers. For Jesus, His suffering taught Him obedience to God the Father regardless of the cost. Jesus accepted His suffering consciously and with spiritual intent. Because of this, He was able to become the source of salvation for all willing to follow His path. 

Our own suffering can also be transformative for ourselves and a source of hope and inspiration for others.

John presents Jesus in a slightly different light. John’s Jesus was confident, almost serene, and He did not shrink back one bit from His approaching Passion and death. The arrival of a group of Greeks asking to see Jesus was the signal that the long-awaited “hour of Jesus” had come. 

In His image of the grain of wheat, an image widely used in the ancient world to denote death and rebirth, Jesus made it clear that His death was both necessary and beneficial. His “hour” was His mission. 

Death is an important part of the cosmic process, for without death, there can be no new life. People cling to physical life fearfully, but in the end, death comes to all. Jesus consciously let go of His life — gave it away, in fact — for the sake of humanity. 

Jesus used a pun to describe the nature and the purpose of His death. The Greek word meaning “to lift up” can also mean to exalt or glorify. He clearly saw that He would be “lifted up” — crucified — but what others would see as a catastrophe was glorification and exaltation. 

The impact of His death was universal, for through it He would draw all people to Himself. His radical gift of self was motivated by His love and His union with God the Father. 

Jesus offers us this same union — not as a personal possession, but as a motivation for love and service.