Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT,

APRIL 6

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51;

Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

OUR GOOD NEWS: God makes us loving and faithful! "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant ..." (first reading). God's "covenant" resem-bles any contract - marriage, bill of sale - where both parties freely and solemnly bind themselves to stated terms. It differs in being one-sided: God does the giving, Israel only receives. In this contract, God offers special love and everything implied in it - the divine presence to protect and guide, resulting in genuine, lasting peace and prosperity. Like us, Israel had only to accept, to let herself be loved, responding with an answering love that includes essential expressions of fidelity such as trust, dependence and sensitivity toward her Divine Lover. And yet this was precisely what the Chosen People could not do, nor are we much better. Universal human experience attests such illogical behavior. Sinful humankind resists getting involved. We are threatened by the offer of selfless love because it involves letting go, honestly admitting needs that can't be satisfied with one's own or any other created resources. Today's prophecy addressed this ultimate obstacle to human salvation, proclaiming God's firm intention as well as ability finally to overcome our stubborn pride. This text functions as a pivotal passage in the complete Bible, not only binding together thematically but furnishing names for its two major divisions ("testament" is Latin for covenant). God's offer remains the same in both Jewish and Christian dispensations. But in Jesus Christ unique divine power comes to enable and support selfless love, offering us a gift that literally cannot be refused. However illogical and even contradictory, God promises to do what we wish we could do with our loved ones. He promises to make us thoroughly loving! Jeremiah's analogous imagery remains tantalizingly vague, enticing with its indistinctness. God committed Himself to remake His covenant agreement by re-creating each individual member. He would give us an interior "law" replacing the law taught from Mount Sinai, an inner compulsion toward good not acquired by personal effort or practice of virtue through learning or experience. Thus empowered, the whole community becomes a lived paradox, "forced" to love when love by definition must be freely given. Such the grace offered through Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection! This proclamation of a new covenant reveals God's "secret weapon" for saving us sinners. Instead of commanding what is humanly impossible, or resigning Himself to our ingrained infidelity or depriving us of freedom by forcing obedience, God "makes" us freely love through overpowering grace. The second reading further specifies this secret weapon God uses for our salvation. The main statement about Jesus' earthly life concerns His uniquely powerful "prayers and (earnest) supplications." The New Testament's description of Jesus' terrible experience in Gethsemane Garden shocks our sensibilities. Only through "loud cries and tears" was Jesus heard by his Father, "because of his reverence" - healthy or "godly fear" that accepted the divine will rather than insisted on its own. In Gethsemane Garden Jesus prayed for deliverance from physical suffering and death - "let this chalice pass from Me." God answered His and our prayer, not with rescue from a premature death but with rescue from eternal death.

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