5th Sunday of Lent
Today’s first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah refers to a new covenant between the Lord and his people. We are all familiar with the Old Covenant. It was written on stone tablets and we still refer to it as the Ten Commandments. You know, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness, or you shall not covet your neighbor’s goods to name just a few.
Writing 600 years before the time of Christ, the Prophet pointed out that the people had repeatedly broken or ignored the agreement they had made. However, they will get another chance but this time the covenant will not be written on stone but on our very hearts. Heart is, of course, a symbol or metaphor for our souls, or our whole being, to put it in modern terms.
The way of the Lord will be in us as if it was part of our genetic makeup.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts… No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me…
It will form our conscience and no one can say that they can’t distinguish right from wrong. We can, however, refuse to listen to our hearts or darken them to the point where we think we can get away with anything. Today’s responsorial psalm asks,
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
So, what is the nature of this new covenant? It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that it is built upon the old covenant but goes much further. Its commands no longer apply to members of your own family, tribe, or nation. Moreover, the understanding of the commandments goes much deeper. Not only are we to love our neighbor as ourself but also to love our enemies. A clean heart will tell us that anger is not far from killing, or that lustful thoughts are not that different from adultery.
We know that when the Jews of the time of Christ heard Jesus expound on the nature of the new covenant, and on their blindness to its real teaching, they reacted bitterly. We shouldn’t look back and blame them, however, because most of us today find it as difficult to see or hear the message. We don’t like to talk about the seven deadly sins anymore but that doesn’t mean they have gone away in our enlightened age. Is our world free of pride, lust, gluttony, avarice, anger, envy, and sloth?
In today’s gospel St. John gives us the reason why Jesus had to die on the Cross. It’s as it his enlightened teaching and parables were not enough to convince. Even the healings and incredible miracles were not enough to convince people then and now. He came to sacrifice himself to save us from ourselves by showing us that the sacrificing of our own selves was the way to true happiness.
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
It remains just a grain of wheat,
But if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
And whoever hates his life in this world
Will preserve it for eternal life."
I’m not saying that we have to die on a cross like the poor martyrs still being persecuted in many parts of the world today. But a clean heart will tell us that we have to give up selfishness and self-centeredness even if it only means being more considerate of the person right next to us. It is not just the vocation of priests and nuns to give up their own desires and ambitions for the sake of others; it is the vocation of each one of us.
Paradoxically, Jesus tells us that only when we do so, will we truly find our own self. In today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews we see that the suffering of Jesus on the Cross culminated in his Resurrection. Our own little sacrifices during Lent should remind us of all the sacrifices that we have been called to make in our lives. As we approach Holy Week, we should reflect on the real possibility that we have been carrying the Cross along with Jesus on our own journey through life.
Reading 1. Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Reading II. Hebrews 5: 7-9
Gospel. John 12: 20-33 (a grain of wheat)