First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34 Responsorial: Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15 Second Reading: Hebrews 5:7-9 Gospel Passage: John 12:20-33
Meaning By Bishop Richard Henning
The Book of Jeremiah records the career of one of the most compelling prophetic figures in the Old Testament. Jeremiah lived in terrifying times. Judah was threatened by powerful enemies on every side. In this precarious environment, the leaders of Judah turned to political machinations, attempting to play one power against another.
On the spiritual front, the state of Judah was no more promising. Jeremiah saw the kingdom move from the promising reforms of King Josiah, to backsliding into pagan practice under Jehoiakim, to the chaos of conquest and exile. At a time when many prophets served to prop up the power of a corrupt regime, Jeremiah told the awful truth of the danger faced by the people. For this reason, he suffered rejection, persecution, and death.
For all his suffering, Jeremiah did not waiver in his faithful service to the Lord. Even as his people rejected him, he acted for the sake of a profound love of the people. He had the courage to tell them the truth of their sins when they felt untouchable and the truth of God’s mercy when they fell in despair.
This portrait of Jeremiah is so compelling for the reader because the book reveals more of the individual than earlier prophetic books. We have a window into Jeremiah’s soul as we see his suffering and his anguish as the people he loves suffer the effects of their own hubris. We see the internal struggle of a man dedicated to God while knowing that this same dedication brings him rejection.
In today’s passage, Jeremiah speaks words of comfort to Israel. He speaks of faith in the tender mercy of God who transforms loss and death into the possibility of new life. These terrible events clear the way for a new kind of relationship between God and His people. This new relationship is more personal, more relational, and it brings the law of God to a deeper level of meaning. The renewed people will have the law of God in their hearts - it will shape them from the inside out and find expression in their lives. Jeremiah’s words are all the more powerful for the way in which he himself modeled this new relationship. He belongs entirely to the Lord and his every action serves the Lord and His people. Jeremiah finds his meaning in this communion with the God of Israel – even his sufferings play their role in God’s gracious plan.
The witness of Jeremiah is a crucial component of the New Testament understanding of Jesus. In fact, many scholars suggest that Jesus Himself most identified with the experience of Jeremiah who loved God, loved the people, and endured rejection and death. We can hear an echo of this identification in the passage from Hebrews. For all the wondrous goodness that Jesus brings to men and women He suffers rejection. Nevertheless, Jesus has the most intimate of relationships with the Father. We see into His soul and we hear His cries. Above all, we perceive His faithfulness to the Father no matter the consequences. In the language of Hebrews, His suffering brings obedience – in other words it reveals His fidelity.
The lengthy passage from John raises several important issues. The presence of “Greeks” who desire to see Jesus hints at the universal effects of Jesus’ ministry and death. Here is yet another moment of a new covenant – the law is now to be written on the hearts of men and women of every nation. We also hear Jesus interpreting His death by using a very simple metaphor. The seed must be obliterated for new life to come forth. Jesus will not cling to life in the flesh, but give over His life to the plan of God and the deliverance of humankind. Finally, we glimpse Jesus’ thoughts and they reveal His intimacy with the Father, his internal struggle in the face of the terrible road that lies ahead, and His utter faithfulness no matter the cost.
When we endure suffering or face the “valley of death,” we want to know that it all somehow makes sense. We tell ourselves that if we understood it all, we could accept it. Such longings, while understandable, miss the point. How could we ever make sense of the cruelty and injustice of suffering and death? Jesus, and Jeremiah who goes before Him, teach us the better way. We do not find our purpose in our suffering, our purpose gives meaning to our suffering. Our purpose is to open our hearts to the Lord, to surrender to His grace, to trust in the darkness, to love past the fear and the hate. In the gift of ourselves we find new hearts, new life, new meaning.