Today I want to discuss the New Covenant and what Scripture may or may not say about it.
In our first reading today, the Prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new beginning and also in a line often forgotten in the reading talks about individual responsibility, vv29-30; In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. In other words, no longer will children have to pay for the sins of their forebears. Jeremiah was likely saying here that the new Israel will not pay for the failings of the old Nation state. Rather it is the one who rebels who will face the consequencies.
Some theologians argue that vv31-34, a very well known piece of scripture does not speak of the new covenant in Jesus but speaks contextually to a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel. There are of course conflicting views with an equally strong validity by others that this is indeed a prophecy looking forward to the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus at the Last Supper. The arguments appear compelling on both sides. Of course, Why wouldn’t Jeremiah be writing about his own time?
Like all scripture of course, it doesn’t quite say what it says on the tin. In other words it is just downright dangerous to read things absolutely and limited to the literal meaning. It could of course be that this was indeed a direct message to the Jews in exile, struggling to find meaning for their suffering, a nation without a home. The writing you see is set in the 5-6th Century BC, and some of the difficulty in interpretation arises from the apparent complexity of the way it was written which includes biography, prose and poetry, 3 styles of writing which in fact are believed to be derived from different sources. In conclusion, the Jeremiah we read today is a piece of literature that has undergone a high number of revisions over many centuries making it all the harder to discern the original meaning. Even more reason when reading Holy Scripture to allow time for reflection – that is thinking – all allow God to speak to us. We can certainly hear in vv 31-34 a message and promise that sounds particularly relevant to Christianity and the outcome of a new Covenant, a new way of being in relationship with God.
That new way of thinking about God is highlighted in Luke’s Gospel. Too often we may well think of God as being a fearful judge. How many people have been put off a relationship with God by the overkeen evangelist warning them of God’s coming wrath if they don’t change their ways. Ask yourself, would you run to the arms of a God who has the seeming attitude of a heartless tax collector. Would you run towards a God who would turn on you saying, You weren’t good enough, you still need to pay your dues, go away! Is that God? What emotions would a God like that engender in you? And yet, so often when we preach Hellfire and Damnation, why are we surprised that people see God as exactly that, as Hellfire and Damnation. Someone to be run from at all costs.
But what does Jesus say? He compares the heartless judge who really can’t be bothered with the complaints from one who he views to be the dross of society, with the one true God who will not hesitate to come to us and like the father in the parable of the prodigal son will in fact run towards us with open arms, breaking down our barriers and embracing us with love, if we only left him.
The new covenant, announced by Jesus during his life, inaugurated at the Last Supper and completed in the crucifixion and resurrection ushers in the new age, the Kingdom of God. This is the world, the age we are living in today. We are living in the Kingdom of God, it is just that the Kingdom is still growing like that great mustard tree illusion that Jesus used in another story he gave. It is still overcoming the false Kingdom that we have created. The false Kingdom where we worship false idols such as money, celebrity, infamy, power, status, and perhaps worst of all spirituality, worse because if we don’t have God at the centre of our spirituality then who is at the centre? If it is not God then it is false.
How do we live in the Kingdom?
Well we start by finding peace with those in our community. This might be our own family or church, town or country. Let us hear what Jesus had to say at the Last Supper, John 13:35 ; “ By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another”.
So let us love one another, and then remember that God’s community is not limited to this place but extends to the whole of his creation. So we are called to love all whom we meet irrespective of creed, race gender or sexual orientation. Don’t forget the words of Archbishop Tutu, “God is not a Christian”
We need to constantly bear in mind that the church is God’s, God is not the Church’s. God is bigger than any one denomination or faith. Our calling or purpose is simple really. We are to be the image bearers of God to the world, we are to be the means by which the Kingdom of God is completed on earth as it is in Heaven.
So love is the commandment of the New Covenant. Come and receive the Holy Spirit and go forth in love, being Jesus.