Theme: Wounded healers
A missionary was sent to preach the good news where he encountered untold hardships including imprisonment and torture. When he was miraculously released, he asked the civil authorities to allow him resume his work. With indignation, the man in charge denied him request, saying, ‘my people are not foolish enough to listen to anything you say but I fear they may be impressed by your scars and thereby be convinced to turn to your religion! As the days of Lent flow away, we invited to remember the scars of Jesus so that we are convinced.
First reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
This short text from Jeremiah treats the purpose of forging of a new covenant between God and humanity and the struggle to sustain it. In its original context the new covenant was intended to encourage the exiled community in Babylon. Jeremiah who ministered the people before and after Judah’s defeat and subsequent deportation had interpreted their downfall as punishment for sins against the Sinaitic covenant. With hearts hardened and unresponsive to God’s love, Israelites had failed repeatedly cf. Jeremiah 5:23. But what human sin had breached and destroyed, God had the power to heal and to make whole. According to Jeremiah, the new covenant would be forever unbreakable cf. Jeremiah 31:31-32.
Unlike the stone tablets mediated by Moses which were shattered, the new covenant would be written in the heart, meaning integrated within the seat of human intellect and will. The terms of the new covenant would not be shouldered as a heavy burden but a commitment characterized by mercy and by knowledge of God. With it, forgiveness would mean total amnesty from sin and its consequences. While we should live in the confidence that this covenant will never be nullified, this does not preclude the fact of human sin. During the remaining days of Lent, we are invited to reflecting on the quality of our covenantal loyalties so that we cooperate with the gift of grace which restores spiritual holiness and integrity.
Second reading: Hebrews 5:7-9
The Letter to the Hebrews is an eloquent theological exposition of lengthy sermon portraying Jesus as high priest par excellence of the new and everlasting covenant, formulated at the Passover and sealed on the Cross. One of the best written pieces of early Christian literature, Hebrews could be a work of a Greek speaking Jewish Christian who had been influenced by St Paul but written around 80-96 AD. Its content sums up a threefold statement of the function of Christ. First, Christ is the new word of God to humanity cf. Hebrews 1:1-4:13. Second, Christ is the unique and eternal priest whose sacrificial death atones for sin opening access towards God cf. Hebrews 4:14-10:31. Third, Christ’s own insight into the heavenly world of God is a model of faith and a source of hope for Christians cf. Hebrews 10:32-12:29.
Early Christians reading their scriptures by the light of Easter recognized that Jeremiah’s promised covenant had finally come to pass through the person and mission of Jesus. Jeremiah 31:31-34, is the conceptual bridge which links both covenants in its promise. Covenants among Hebrews were established to solidify a pact between two parties. Participants in the covenant pledged their loyalties and allegiance to one another. As a sign that the covenant was inviolable it was sealed with a sacrifice and its blood sprinkled on both parties. At Sinai, the blood of bulls ratified the covenant between God and Israel cf. Exodus 24:8; during our times, Jesus’ own blood has forged a forever covenant between God and all peoples.
In this reading qualities of Christ’s priesthood are articulated. Priests of the Sinai covenant were charged with: 1- interpreting the will of God for the people; 2- giving guidance about the law; 3- offering sacrifice on behalf of the community and helping them to know God’s will. In his own death, he functioned as both priest and victim offering one perfect sacrifice. Thus as high priest of the new covenant, his role surpass and obviate both the Sinai covenant and those who were its mediators because he was thoroughly immersed in the maelstrom of sinful humanity to enabled them access authentic purity that only God could bestow.
Gospel: John 12:20-33
During the plundering of this continent, Winston Churchill encouraged the citizens of Great Britain with these words, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” (Speech, Hansard 18 June 1940, col. 60). Students of world history were aware of the fact that Africa was to suffer the bitterness and pain of war for several years but Churchill’s words concerning the finest hour was less about chronological time than about a significant moment in life for which someone had been created. Churchill believed that in the midst of its most tortuous testing, England would prove itself and thereby enjoy its finest hour.
In the gospel of John Jesus is about to embark on his finest hour, a moment in which he would be tortuously tested and during which he would prove himself the purpose in God’s saving plan. Jesus had frequently stated that the hour had not yet come cf. John 2:4 and that the hour was indeed coming cf. John 4:21. During his final Passover in Jerusalem Jesus made a dramatic declaration that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” John 12:23. From this moment on, things would escalate because the reason for his appearance in human flesh was eminent cf. Hebrews 5:7. Glory would be one aspect of Jesus’ hour but it would be preceded by the scars of suffering, rejection, abandonment, death and burial. Prompted by the Greeks who requested to see Jesus, and to see in Greek/eidon also means to believe, the subsequently Jesus’ hour could also be understood as a universal invitation to discipleship; “if anyone would serve me, let him follow me” John 12:6. Not only Jews but Gentiles are challenged to participate in Jesus’ hour, sharing in his suffering and death as well as in the glory of his resurrection and exaltation.
As the discourse unfolds, Jesus’ hour is described in three ways: 1- as a death that gives life in the proverb about the grain of wheat which has to fall and die. Planted seeds, buried in the earth, seem for all practical purposes to be dead. Yet they begin to grow and rise out of the furrows of their grave to live and nourish. 2- Jesus’ hour will manage a crisis cf. John12:31; those who accept Jesus in faith will be free of Satan the ruler of this world and the power of evil. 3- Jesus’ hour would provide access to eternal life for all. Lifted up in his finest hour, Jesus will draw everyone to himself. Therefore all of us who happen to be here in Church today are charged to come away from this celebration with a renewed appreciation of Jesus’ saving scars as well as a deepened sense of dedication to the struggle of the human experience. We are invited to unite our personal struggles and scars with those of Jesus so that he can change us.
Our attitude and behavior has to be that of people living a life of a new covenant where law of God and respect of people is written in our hearts. To succeed in fulfilling God’s plan in our lives and elsewhere, we have to accept suffering and sacrifice in the imitation of Christ. It is by our scars and surrendering to the will of God that we are able to heal those who are wounded and almost burnt out. God is interested in making a new covenant with us, we need to collaborate.