Friday, March 20, 2015

Homily (2) 5th Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (2) 5th Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-15; Heb 5:7-9 and John 12:20-33

Transforming Power of the New Covenant!
The 5th Sunday of Lent draws us nearer to the Holy Week, during which we deeply contemplate the saving mysteries of Christ Passion and his death on the Cross. Today’s Bible readings, in particular calls for a change of heart and foreshadows the significance of the saving mysteries of the upcoming Holy Week.

In the first reading(Jer 31:31-34), Jeremiah, also known as a prophet of interior life, and a mystic in the market place, touches on the saving covenant promises God made to our fathers and ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, but in a renewed way to  Israel, the house of David and subsequently to ourselves, today.
Jeremiah speaks of God’s promise of a new covenant, new manners, laws, precepts, and ways in which God’s expresses his loving relationship with us, I will be their God, and they will be my people ( Jer 31:33). Unlike the old covenant written on tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12), the new covenant will be written in the heart of everyone with a transforming effect. He says, “behold the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.”

In as much as the heart is the center of feeling and affection, for ancient Israel the heart was believed to be the center of knowing and willing. To write the divine law in human’s heart is to place it indelibly in their hearts. Thus, “no longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives, how to know the Lord… for they shall know me,”(v. 34).
For the prophet Jeremiah, sin and idolatry broke the old covenant relationship between Israel and God, such that a new covenant was needed, and could now be addressed in a different way; through divine mercy and forgiveness. Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant offers hope for change, that the past with its sins and the present with its despair could be redeemed by the gracious act of God.

This gracious act of God is what we pray in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me O God, in your goodness, in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Wash me from my guilt, and of my sins cleanse me. A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me…. I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you,” (Ps 51).
This renewed gracious act of God is also the subject of the 2nd reading, the Letter to the Hebrews (5:7-9). Even though Christ was the Son of God, “he learned obedience from what he suffered and when he was made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

 The Gospel reading also builds on these gracious acts of God. It expresses this new covenant,  Jesus' mercy, kindness, goodness, obedience to his Father, love and generosity (John 12:20-33). This is evident in  Jesus' willingness to go to the Cross on our behalf. This is what he meant by, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…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.” Christ went on to say, “When I am lifted up from the earth will draw everyone to myself.” On the Cross, he truly drew everyone to himself- Nichodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Jews, Gentiles, the Roman soldiers, men and women.  A sacrificial and salvific journey to the Cross.
Christ's message is also even true for all farmers. The seed we plant must take some time, some hours, to undergo some kind of changes, and transformation in order to grow into a bigger tree, or shrub, that bear fruits, produce sheds, and accommodates all kinds of birds, insects, animals and other creatures. Christ’s death was not a defeat but victory!

The events of the Holy Week that  today's readings foreshadow, is salvific and transforming. It is up- lifting and transforming. Christ victory on the Cross and the mystery of the empty tomb drew everyone to himself: men, women, children, Jews, Romans and Greeks and Gentiles alike.  With it Christ  teaches us the new covenant, of hope, endurance, forgiveness, universalism, way to the eternal life and the need to love everyone, no matter where they come from, or what they look like, especially the poor and the marginalized, those affected by natural and human-made tragedies, that Pope Francis has increasing invite us to welcome in our hearts, homes, budgets, and in our political legislations!