A new beginning through death

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The theme of a new beginning in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent continues in the Gospel Reading from John 12: 20-33. In Jeremiah 31: 31-34 God declares, “the days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. We have noted what is different with this new covenant: that it will be written on human hearts not on stone tablets, it will lead to the knowledge of God through forgiveness of sins and restoration.

This is a new beginning indeed.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat dying and through its death, abundant life coming out. Undoubtedly, Jesus is speaking about his own death, and in retrospect we see the meaning of his resurrection: a new beginning. In his latest book, Surprised by Scripture, N. T. Wright points out, again and again, that Jesus’ resurrection marks a new beginning for everything from creation to relationship with God.

This new beginning, forgiveness of sins and restoration is not for the house of Israel and the house of Judah only. In the Gospel Reading, John recounts Greeks seeking to meet Jesus. These were Gentiles, and not even believers. Yet they were drawn to want to meet Jesus.

This leads to Jesus’ remark, addressed to everyone – including us today: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). All the four Gospels have this statement though in different contexts (cf. Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9: 24).

Jesus is not urging us towards self-contempt. But how does one love life – in this world – and thereby lose it in eternity, or vice versa? Actually the double-use of the word life, in this verse is a translation of two Greek words,  psyche, meaning the individual person and zoe, which means that spiritual dynamic that aligns with God.

Jesus is therefore urging us to strive for a life higher than ourselves – sacrificial living focused beyond our individual personalities.

We ask ourselves, especially during Lent – but at all times – are we suffering with those who suffer, hunger with the hungry, feel, with the stranger, the pain of alienation, and forego the comforts of this life to serve others?

When that happens, people are drawn to God. Like Philip and Andrew that is how we lead people to Christ.

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God of new beginnings

There is something profoundly significant in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Actually this is a high point in Old Testament theology when God declares, “I will make a new covenant”. This would be a covenant different from the moral code given at Sinai and written on stone tablets.

God will put the new covenant “within”, in the hearts of God’s people. Not on stone tablets but in human hearts. This is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s prophecy where, again, God promises: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36-26-27).

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This is the same promise in Ezekiel 11:19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God”.

However one looks at it, God is speaking of a new beginning; a beginning that is different.

What is the difference? In the new covenant God’s people will know God, not because they have kept the law – which they have failed to keep anyway – but because God forgives “their iniquity, and remembers their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). They will know God from the perspective of forgiveness of sins, not from being sinless.

Being sinless is a human perspective. It is a perspective that is contradictory to the Psalm for this Sunday where David declares: “Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb” (Psalm 51:5). This is, indeed a penitential psalm, the foremost of the penitential psalms. The petitioner (David) can only look up to God and pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me”.

This is possible in God’s new covenant in which God declares, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

It will not happen, but then it happens

Throughout human history some people have fantasized – without consciously being aware it is a fantasy – that they can control human evolution, especially those human aspirations which they do not like. In apartheid South Africa it was not uncommon for some of the Boer politicians to proclaim, “Apartheid is eternal. There will never be a Black South Africa”. Indeed most colonists saw freedom movements as futile expressions of what “will never happen”.

African countries gained independence during the decades of 60s, 70s and 80s even as strong Portuguese sentiment continued to hold to the fantasy “it will never happen” in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. It happened; because human evolution will happen.

We can either welcome and prepare for it and actually enjoy it because human evolution is good and is part of Creation. What we call good and bad is only perception. What rules the Universe is Love and in Love there is only good.

Today we are hearing some politicians in Israel proclaim, “there will not be a Palestinian state”, as if it is in their power to prevent human evolution. Actually, no subjugation or coercion can stop human evolution. Ultimately what will happen will happen.

Sadly, we have continued to rely on the five senses in our efforts to “control” our destiny and the five sensory habitat we live in. By occupation, subjugation, coercion, and humiliation – all of which are signs of external power – we imagine we can have peace and security. In that mindset we destroy life, we demolish instead of building and yet we do not find peace and security.

Peace and security – internal, or authentic power –  come from Love. Let us embrace the evolution; we will find peace and security.