Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B
March 21, 2021
Often when we hear that we are going to get something new we understand that the new thing that we are receiving is going to replace an old thing that we have already. We might even think that we could throw the old thing away. When we first hear God’s promise in Jeremiah that He is going to make a new covenant with Israel and Judah, we might be tempted to understand that this new covenant will completely eradicate and annihilate the old. The old covenant is based on the Torah, the Law; so we might be tempted to assume that the new covenant will make the Law null and void. Not so, however! There is a new covenant certainly, and it is a covenant that is different from the old. But here is the difference: the new covenant is internal to us whereas the old covenant was external. The old covenant was a set of laws that were external to us that we had to be taught. But in the new covenant, God takes those very same laws and implants them in our hearts so that they are internal. God promises, “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts.” With the new covenant, we know the Lord intimately; for He is not external to us but dwells within us. We are people of the Covenant – a NEW covenant – the same promises as the old covenant; the difference is that in this new Covenant, we live and move and have our being.
God remembers your sin no more. Because your sins are forgotten, you are able truly to KNOW the Lord. Take a moment to go deep within yourself and connect with that knowledge!
This portion of Psalm 119 (the longest of the Psalms) is praise to the ways of the Lord. God’s commandments are safeguards that keep us from straying. Because the new Covenant enables us to keep these commandments in our heart, we have a constant guide to keep us on the correct path. These commandments are the greatest gift of all.
Human beings do best when they have structure – when they have a framework in which to live their lives. God designed us and knows best what framework would suit us and hence He gave us the commandments. If we keep to them, we have the perfect structure for our lives. Take an honest assessment of your life and try to understand where the framework might be weak. What commandments of God do you find hardest to keep? Talk to your priest. How can you strengthen those weak places? How can you embrace more fully God’s commandments?
This portion of the letter to the Hebrews tells us “Although he [Jesus] was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” These are not happy words to our ears. We don’t want to have to learn things through suffering. The truth, however, is that if we experience pleasure all the time, we are not likely to be motivated to observe certain things. Suffering prompts us to pay strict attention. It is God’s plan that we learn the things to which we should submit, the things we should observe, that which we should obey. Jesus became God’s Son through God’s appointment – “You are my Son, the Beloved.” We too become who we are intended to be by God’s appointment – forever “according to the order of Melchizedek.” When Jesus entered into perfection (through His obedience) He became the source of eternal salvation. This was God’s designation. This was God’s plan.
What is God’s plan for you? While no good theology would say that God causes suffering for our benefit, God certainly moves and works through our suffering to teach us. Life is hard. But we learn from it. What is life teaching you?
Why does the author of the Gospel of John include this account about Greeks who want to see Jesus? And why doesn’t Philip just take the Greeks directly to Jesus? Why does he feel the need to go by way of Andrew? Does he have reservations about taking Greeks directly to Jesus? Just prior to this account there is the story of the Canaanite woman begging Jesus for mercy wherein Jesus proclaims that He has come to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And yet this woman proves that even outsiders can have faith in the Messiah. The Greeks also are outsiders, quite possibly proselytes or newly converted Jews, but certainly not of the original House of Israel. When Philip and Andrew tell Jesus about the Greeks, his answer doesn’t seem to be exactly on point. He speaks of seeds falling to the ground, bursting open, dying, but giving forth new life. He asks those who follow Him to lose their lives in order to gain them. We must follow Him where He goes – to suffering and death. And then Jesus utters the ultimate promise, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” There is no more separation. There is no longer Jew nor Greek. There are no longer those who are alive and those who are dead. Jesus is not bypassing our death, but joining us…all of us. Jesus is drawing all people equally to Himself. The Greeks were trying to follow and serve Christ. They were being drawn to Him. There are no longer insiders and outsiders. John speaks of the Greeks to underscore that God’s plan includes everyone.
What can this extraordinary story possible mean for us? We are certainly part of God’s inside circle but we must make room for those who are outside. Who are the Greeks in your life? Who is asking you to take them to see Jesus?
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.