Vol: 45, No.20 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT ( B) March 18 2018  
 
LITURGY AND LIFE

We have already encountered the biblical theme of the “covenant” on the First Sunday of Lent. The liturgy of this Sunday places before us the renowned “New Covenant” of Jeremiah. The “New Covenant” appears for the first time in the book of Jeremiah. In the New Testament the phrase “New Covenant” appears in Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, and twice in the Letter to the Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15. This short oracle has been justly called “one of the profoundest and most moving passages in the entire Bible.”
The New Covenant will be different from the one which previous generations had broken. It will be written on people’s hearts, not just on stones, like the Ten Commandments. In other words, we will always carry with us the stipulations of the New Covenant with us and it will become part of our being. Two characteristics of the New Covenant are to be noted. First, people need not be encouraged to know God, because all will know him. Secondly, God will forgive the sins of the people in a new and decisive way.
The belief in a new covenant existed among the Essenes of Qumran, but it was the Christian Church that laid real claim to Jeremiah’s promise, establishing the New Covenant finally as its charter of faith. The New Covenant will be more than a renewed Mosaic covenant, such as those formalized in the plains of Moab (Deut 5:2-3; 28:69), at Shechem (Joshua 24), or in Jerusalem at the climax of the Josianic reform (2 Kings 23). It is really a “New” covenant, one that marks a new beginning in divine-human relationship and one which is grounded in a wholly new act of divine grace, i.e., the forgiveness of sins. It is to be noted that, the forgiveness of sins did not undergird the Mosaic covenant, in fact, it played no part at all in the covenant’s understanding. The act of divine grace undergirding the Mosaic covenant was the deliverance from Egypt (Exod 20:2; Deut 5:6).

 

Just to mention what the Fathers of the Church thought about the New Covenant, we have Clement of Alexandria who saw in Jeremiah 31:31-14 an indication that God had implanted his heavenly teaching, or laws, into human minds and hearts. Clement says that old covenants disciplined people with fear, but the New Covenant turns fear into love.
Second Reading says that for Christ the path leading to the priesthood was a path of humility and suffering, a path of effective solidarity with human weakness. His priestly offering consisted of “prayers and supplications”, and they were accompanied by a “loud cry” and “tears”. Jesus did not pretend to impose his own will on God; instead, he let his Father choose the best solution. This is the reason why he was “heard”. The divine solution did not consist in preserving him from death; it transformed his suffering and death into the instrument of definitive victory over evil and over death itself. Christ became the source of eternal salvation and was designated by God a high priest forever.
The gospel deals with the “hour” of Jesus. The end of the public ministry is signalled by the arrival of the Greeks which causes Jesus to exclaim, “The hour has come,” and he speaks of a grain of wheat that dies in order to bear much fruit. The atmosphere resembles that of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane on the night before he dies. In both scenes Jesus’ soul is troubled/sorrowful. In Mark he prays to the Father that the hour might pass from him, but in John Jesus welcomes the “hour” since this is why he has come. It may be assumed that their quest to see Jesus has been prompted by a desire to learn from him rather than curiosity. Maybe John sees them as examples of the “world” going after Jesus. Jesus’ “hour” was the approaching passion. The example of the grain indicates this.

— AK
March 2018 Readings (5th Week of Lent) Psalter Week 1
19 Mon (W) T JOSEPH, HUSBAND OF MARY, Solemnity, 2 Sam 7:4-5, 12-14, 16/
Ps 89:2-5, 27, 29/ Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22/ Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24 or Lk 2:41-51
20 Tue (V) Num 21:4-9/ Ps 102:2-3, 16-21/ Jn 8:21-30
21 Wed (V) Dan 3:14-20, 91-92, 95/ Dan 3:52-56/ Jn 8:31-42
22 Thu (V) Gen 17:3-9/ Ps 105:4-9/ Jn 8:51-59
23 Fri (V) Jer 20:10-13/ Ps 18:2-7/ Jn 10:31-42
24 Sat (V) Ezek 37:21-28/ Jer 31:10-13/ Jn 11:45-56
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