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Posted by on Mar 22, 2024

A New Covenant – Written on Our Hearts

A New Covenant – Written on Our Hearts

The story of the relationship between God and humans is told beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures, with the creation myths of the Hebrew people. We learn of the creation, from two different perspectives, each intended to answer specific questions that had arisen in the course of the years. We hear of the covenant between Abraham and God, in which it became known that God is not a local god, limited to one place and time. We learn of the continuation of that covenant through Isaac and Jacob and their descendants.

Following the time in Egypt, when the people were led out into the desert by  Moses to offer sacrifice to God and move to a new land and life as free people again, Moses took them to the mountain on which he had first encountered God, Mt Sinai. There the covenant, the Law by which the people were to live, was inscribed on stone tablets. The tablets were kept in a special tent that was taken with the people wherever they went.

Eventually, in the time of King Solomon, a temple was built in Jerusalem. The tablets of the Law were carefully placed in the center of the building, the Holy of Holies. This area of the temple was kept apart from ordinary people. Only a select few priests were allowed to enter to offer sacrifice and prayers there.

By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the Covenant had been broken many times by the people and their leaders. God was always faithful and kept sending prophets to call people back to faithfulness. There were times when enemies prevailed and times when the people were victorious over their enemies.

Jeremiah was a prophet during the time when the Babylonians were the most powerful empire. The northern kingdoms of Israel had long since been conquered. The southern ones, Juda and Benjamin, were semi-independent yet, but trouble was brewing. Jeremiah kept warning the leaders and people that if they did not reform their lives, God would allow them to be conquered. He met with unrelenting opposition and as predicted, the Babylonians came in force, destroyed the temple, and took the leaders and many of the people into exile in Babylon. They remained there for 70 years, until Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and returned those who had been taken into exile and their descendants to their homeland. (Jer 31:31-34)

Jeremiah’s words promise a new kind of covenant.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people… All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD.”

How can this be? It’s a pretty drastic step on God’s part to assume that people will be able to hold the law of the Lord in their hearts and that all will know him.

I would like to suggest that it’s something that takes many years to learn, but that is planted at the very beginnings of our lives. We come to our parents as helpless infants. We have normal bodily functions, assuming we are healthy, but we can’t eat or drink or anything else unless someone else provides for us. We cry out for attention, help, comfort. But unless someone hears and comes to us, we will simply cry until we are exhausted. We may eventually even give up hope and die.

It is in the giving and receiving of love that we learn God’s law, which Jesus summarized as, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … and … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22: 37-39)

We can only love if we have first experienced love. When we don’t get the love we need, it takes much longer to learn to love. We have to be healed with loving patience first.

But we are born to love and be loved, not necessarily in that order. What is learned in the depths of our hearts will always be stronger than anything written on a stone, or on a clay tablet, or in a book, or on the internet! What is written on our hearts lasts through time.

As we move towards Holy Week and the end of our Lenten journey, may we be open to receive the healing love of our God each day, and to pass it on to those we meet on our journey. As this happens, we come to experience the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic words. The covenant will be written on our hearts and all will know the Lord.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B



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