Saturday, March 17, 2018

Transforming Power of the New Covenant!(5th Sunday Lent B)

Homily Fifth Sunday of Lent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

  • Jer 31:31-34;
·          Ps 51:3-4, 12-15;
·          Heb 5:7-9
·         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 would have received invitation to deeply contemplate God’s covenant with us, as well as reexamine the meaning of the saving mysteries of Christ's Passion and his death on the Cross. Scriptures as always are great tools to work with. Today’s Scriptures, in particular call for a change of heart. It foreshadows the significance of the saving mysteries of the upcoming Holy Week. And reassures us of God’s unweaving love! We are reminded in today’s scriptures- among many other lessons that at death and resurrection Christ, the New Covenant draws us (each of us) to himself! He transforms us!
In the first reading (Jer 31:31-34), Jeremiah, a late-pre-exilic prophet, 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, irrespective of culture, race or nation and diocese.
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. Jeremiah prophecies, I will be their God, and they will be my people (Jer 31:33). Unlike the old sinaitic-covenant written on tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12), the new covenant will be written in the heart of everyone with a transforming effect, through the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit(Rom 2:14-15; natural law and reason!). Of course, the Lord's teachings over the years and centuries are continuously renewed, re-written, and updated to meet our various needs, irrespective of our contexts, culture and communities. The more reason Jeremiah had rightly said, “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.”
 This mystery of God’s love for us, to be reenacted during the forth coming Holy Week and Easter is already written in our hearts, the center of our being, feeling and affection. What was the heart for Jeremiah’s original audience, one may ask? In as much as the heart is the center of feeling and affection, for ancient Israel, where Jeremiah grew up, 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).
In Jeremiah's view, 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), a great sermon of an unknown origin. Yet it says, 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.” It is this journey of salvation for all that will soon be reenacted in the forth coming Holy Week; the hour of salvation!
 It is this hour of salvation for all that we hear in today’s Gospel of John. All through this fourth Gospel Jesus is the bread of life. He is the truth. He is the way. He is the light, the Son of God. He is the good shepherd. He is the resurrection. He is the savior of the world. He is the marker, the conduit of the new covenant of mercy, kindness, goodness, obedience to his Father, love and generosity (John 12:20-33).  He proves this in his willingness to obey the Father, by keeping to that hour,  by doing the will of he Father, by keeping to that divine purpose to which he was sent; to heal us,  wash his disciples feet, to raise Lazarus from the death, and finally go to the Cross gloriously(John 18-21) on our behalf.
This is what he meant  when he says in today’s gospel “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’s journey to the cross will continue to draw us to him and to God his father: “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to myself.”
Truly, his love is unwavering. On the glorious cross he truly drew everyone to himself- Nichodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Jews, and Gentiles, the Roman soldiers, men and women. of all walks- of life.  A sacrificial, transforming, and salvific journey to the Cross, come Holy Week! Indeed, it will be a transforming Holy Week for everyone, for those who persevere, for the remnants and for all of us graced in our hearts, through the power of the Holy Spirit to endure, to love and keep Christ’s precepts of obedience of faith, hope love and of the new convent to the end!
Reflection Question:
1.      As the Holy Week draws near how often do we not feel the transforming power of the New Covenant in our hearts?
2.      It’s also a moment of scrutiny  for those preparing for Easter baptism.  As the baptized are we not also generally geared up for this period and moment of covenant renewal and updates in our relationship with God and neighbors?
3.      How do we assist others, particularly members of our faith communities to prepare for Easter!