On this fifth Sunday of Lent, our minds are set on the reality of the cross. We reflect on how the Son of Man is about to be lifted up for the salvation of humanity. Our gospel reading today reminds us of what Jesus reveals to us last Sunday, in his discourse with Nicodemus that, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. But today, this theme is revisited, when the Greeks came looking for Jesus. Jesus announced this episode as the hour, which has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Following this, Jesus declares, “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.” With this statement he speaks about his death on the cross that will lead to his resurrection, and his sending of the Holy Spirit, in which he will be like a grain of wheat which dies to produce greater fruits. With this, he reveals to us the fact that his true disciple must experience the same death to selfishness in his own life; he must follow where he, the master has led (John 12:20-33).
On this note, he gives courage to his disciples that whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Just as lifted up from the earth, he draws everyone to himself, so does the sacrifice of his disciples, will bring countless disciples to him, and build up the kingdom of God on earth. It involves our learning obedience through what we suffer (Hebrews 5:7-9).
On this Sunday, we are being spiritually prepared for the unfolding of the great mystery packed in the reality of the cross. This is to unseal the New Testament deal that ushers in, the New Covenant. Accordingly, today we are introduced to the New Covenant of Jeremiah, which in the understanding of the New Testament was ratified on the cross with the blood of Jesus.
In the Old Testament understanding, a covenant is a binding legal agreement between two or more parties. In other words, this is not a unilateral act. The initiating party, usually the superior or master, describes himself. Then, there is a list of obligations between the two (or more) parties. This is followed by a section dealing with rewards and punishments that govern the keeping or breaking of the covenant. Another element of ancient covenants is that it could be conditional or unconditional. In the case of a conditional covenant, once there is a violation on the part of the inferior or junior partner in the covenantal relationship, the covenant is broken and sanction immediately follows. However, in the case of an unconditional covenant the default of one party does not necessarily negate the ultimate fulfillment and blessing of the covenant. In the case of the Sinai covenant, which is central to Jeremiah’s new covenant, it was a conditional covenant. This was what defined Israel as a covenant society. And every Jew was proud to belong to this commonwealth because it is based on the relationship between Yahweh and His people, whom he made to be a consecrated people; a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). It was a relationship with special privileges. However, despite all the good things surrounding this Sinai event, it was a conditional covenant, with heavy conditions attached and accepted by the people. The prelude to this covenant is the theophany on Mount Sinai.
The Old Testament covenant was good since it involved a sacred relationship with Yahweh. As we have seen, it faithfully laid out the duties of each side. It said that the Lord God would bless His people if they obeyed the Law and that He would curse them if they disobeyed it. In Jeremiah’s day, it was time for the ‘curses” to kick in (Jeremiah 11:1-8) due to constant violations of the terms of the covenant. With such great blessings for obedience and such horrible curses for disobedience, why could not the nations of Israel and Judah choose rightly? Why did they come to receive the curses instead of the blessings of the covenant? They had the desire to do what is right but did not have the strength to do it. For that reason God promises a New Covenant not written on stone tablets, but written in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
To fulfill his promise, God sent his Son Jesus Christ to establish and ratify the new Covenant sealed in his own blood. Jesus would tell us in the synoptic Gospels: “For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). In our Gospel reading today Jesus speaks about the hour of his being lifted high on the Cross as the Hour of Glory; the hour of the New Covenant; when he will draw all to himself. Let us be lifted up heart and soul with Jesus.
As Christians, in Baptism, we have entered into a lasting Covenant with God through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. By this we are invited to be a consecrated people, a kingdom of priests and a holy people. It involves a total sharing of life with Our God in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. Let us try to live in the state of grace and have God-consciousness every moment as we enter into the great Paschal Mystery of Christ leading to Easter Glory.