5th Lent Cycle B

18th March 2018

In last week’s first reading from the history book called Chronicles mention was made of the prophet Jeremiah; in our reading this week from that prophet (Jeremiah 31:31-34), we have the only explicit mention in the Old Testament of the New Covenant – a new pact of God with and for humanity in relationship with God, though Ezekiel expresses a very similar idea (11:19 || 36:26). The pattern of much of the history of the people descended from Abraham repeats again and again: God makes a covenant, – a promise, a command or an arrangement with conditions, and the people default on their obligation – are unfaithful, or just forgetful; disasters beset the people, usually trouble from neighbouring states; yet God renews His contract with them again and again. The prophets have the difficult and thankless job of encouraging and lifting the spirits of the people again and again, as well as berating their inadequate response to God. At the time of Jeremiah the ‘top’ people have been captured and taken into Babylon in exile; they feel quite depressed and let down by God, so there is need for a message of a new beginning. We realise this when, year by year, we go through the attempt to renew or refresh and re-invigorate our commitment to God in Christ during Lent and with the celebrations of Easter. It seems it is no different from the times of the Old Testament – yet, with the strength from Jesus Christ, a fellow human being of ours, we can – let us affirm we will! The responsorial psalm (from Psalm 51) is quite appropriate to these sentiments, it is sometimes called the ‘miserere’ from the first word of the Latin version (numbered psalm 50 there).

In the book of Hebrews, (Heb 5:7-9), the author is trying to express the ‘new’ situation that the Christians are in; and trying to do it in the language that they would understand. They might well be converts from the Jewish religion, perhaps living in Egypt and in the context of a culture and a view of life influenced by Greek thought and civilisation. Because of the literary style and intricate thought system, it would be best suited to well-educated Christians, knowledgeable of the Old testament and presently living their faith without much difficulty. In the last decades of the first century it presents the new and unique priesthood of Christ: a man with the appropriate priestly qualities, i.e. he can represent others (all other humans) since He became one of us, he has an empathy with the troubles and difficulties of being a good human (a righteous person) in an unsympathetic environment for he was tempted and had his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and he has been appointed by God Who says to His disciples (and that includes us), “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

The gospel reading is John 12: 20-32. Up to this point in this gospel the ‘hour’ of Jesus has not come – as He told Mary in the story of the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:4) when she looked for a miracle from Him. Also in this gospel apart from His dealings with the Samaritan woman (chapter 4) Jesus has confined all His activity to the Jews, but now we hear of Greeks wanting to see Jesus – and ‘seeing’ in this gospel often means coming to believe. Is it this that triggers Jesus’ words “now the hour has come?” He goes on to speak of the pattern of His life and death, which is one of self-denial and service of the other. The followers of Jesus must adopt this pattern in their lives too – it is a scary thing to do. And the writer alludes at this point to the agony prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, a prayer to be freed from this ending of His life, but the prayer is answered in a different way. (In this Gospel there is no account of the agony in the garden as in the other three gospels). His lifting up on the cross is also a lifting up to a new risen life, to the glory of God and to encourage all to ‘follow’ Him. Where He is we should be, and except when we are in sin, where we are, Jesus is there in us, with us and for us!

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