OT: Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34; EPISTLE: Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10; GOSPEL: John 12:20 – 33
Reflection on OT Lesson
The atheist anthem, ‘Imagine’ – composed by John Lennon, is a rather fanciful vision of a world where all possessions are held in common and the world lives in unity and peace without the barriers of nation, race, class or religion. ‘And the world will live as one’ is the aspiration.
However, it’s not just atheists who have fanciful visions. Jeremiah’s picture in chapter 31 suggests that God will stop trying to teach his people things and somehow just ZAP us – so it becomes natural for us to know God. So, His will is written on our hearts and God becomes part of us. But, as we all know, it’s not that simple! Jeremiah LONGS for the time when God and His people will be united and there is some anger and despair that this is not happening. The Old Covenant (based upon the Exodus story and made between God and His people through Moses) is dead and gone says Jeremiah. Why? Because people have been found INCAPABLE of faithfulness and love towards God. So, from now on, the NEW Covenant is to be written on hearts and lives, not on tablets of stone! It may sound wonderful, but it’s actually a last resort, a desperate measure. Only by wiping the slate clean can God achieve what he intended when he first created people.
Jeremiah correctly describes the human hearts’ need for radical overhaul, but he does not show HOW it is going to be achieved. He doesn’t describe just HOW God will fulfil the promise of a New Covenant. As we now know, the New Covenant, carved on the human heart, is the promise God makes to us in Jesus. Our New Testament readings show us what the New Covenant means.
Reflection on Epistle
The writer of Hebrews shows us that to be effective the New Covenant needed a new kind of priesthood. Priests, back in the time of Jesus, had a bad reputation because they sought privileges and did not practise what they preached. Then, as often now, priests had ideas above their station. But Jesus was a different kind of priest. ‘A priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’ But what does that mean? In Genesis 14 we find the founder of the Jewish faith, Abraham, being blessed by Melchizedek who is clearly greater than him. Melchizedek is a mysterious figure about whom we know little. He arrives from nowhere. He appears and disappears just as quickly! He has no genealogy, no father and mother, no descendants, no beginning and no end! The point is that his priesthood was entirely different from that found in Judaism which depended entirely upon descent.
Jesus’ priesthood is the same; it does not depend upon descent but on himself alone. It’s a priesthood which last forever and does not need to offer sacrifice for his own sins. Jesus is the priest, who, in offering himself (not a sacrifice) opened the way to God and ended the need for sacrifice to be made. He showed us the true meaning of priesthood.
Reflection on Gospel
And, just as Jesus reinterpreted priesthood, he also reinterpreted what is meant to be the Messiah, Son of the Father. As Hebrews puts it: ‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.’ Of course, the disciples couldn’t see it. They wanted a quick fix. They wanted an easy victory. They wanted an all-conquering, victorious Messiah, not a crucified one. Not one who learned His Father’s business in the school of suffering.
The disciples had to learn that being Son of the Father was NOT about Jesus being given absolute power and setting up his kingdom by diktat. It was NOT about being a divine figure who was one step removed from the daily suffering and toil of those he came to save. It was NOT a matter of sharing God’s rule and living in glory and bliss. NO!
Jesus, the Son of the Father, had to learn what it was it was like to be part of the world and be the butt of its violence and hatred. Jesus had to learn what God’s ‘creation business was all about from the bottom up, before he could ever save it. Jesus learned that to be the Father’s obedient Son meant enduring its suffering. He endured the darkness of the world in order to be its light. He endured the wickedness of the world in order to rescue it.
How about us as Jesus’ followers? As the sons and daughters of God (co-heirs with Christ) are we too prepared to learn what it means to be about our Father’s business?
Revd Terry Spencer