Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week Marla shares the study of the readings beginning with Jeremiah 31 in which we see God’s promise of a new covenant with Israel. Then she moves onto the second reading from the Book of Hebrews and then closes with the Gospel lesson from John 12. As we come nearer to the celebration of Good Friday and Easter Sunday the focus of the Bible passages continues to point us towards the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection in glory.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah is about love, promises, and a special family relationship, broken and restored. I love my family and express my love with affectionate names. I call my husband “Hon,” my daughter “Sweets,” and my son “Sonnybun.” I speak of them with endearing words because we are family, and they mean the world to me.
In the Old Testament God speaks of the nation of Israel in intimate terms. He made a covenant (promise) with Abraham that his offspring would be God’s chosen people and the whole world would be blessed through them. God and Israel were bound together much like a husband and wife, and God spoke of her in tender and loving terms as a husband speaks of his bride. But when Israel rebelled and turned away from God, her sin was likened to adultery or whoredom. God had been faithful, but Israel had broken her promise.
The book of Jeremiah records the coming judgment. God’s judgment on his people was not intended to destroy them but to restore them to himself. Though they would be taken away into captivity by a foreign power, God would keep his promise, bring them back, and make a new covenant with them. That covenant is still in effect today, and here is the good news—that covenant includes us! The first reading explains it as follows.
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Old Covenant had a law written on tablets of stone. When Israel disobeyed that law they sinned. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). In the days of Israel, sins were covered but not taken away by the blood of repeated animal sacrifices in an earthly temple. But the New Covenant is far superior to that (see Hebrews 10: 1- 25). God gave Jesus his Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (St. John 1: 29). His death on the cross is the final sacrifice for sin and cleanses the sinner (and we are all sinners, Romans 3:23) completely.
Now we have the law of God not on stones but in our hearts. Each of us can receive Jesus by faith and know him in a personal way. When we accept what Jesus has done for us and believe in Him, our restoration to God is complete, and He can once more call us by His affectionate names—child, friend, and bride (St. John 1:12; 15:15; Rev. 19:7, 22:17).
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading takes us to a set of verses in a larger passage that speaks of Jesus as our high priest. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, when someone sinned, he would bring an animal to the priest and the priest would sacrifice it (shed its blood) on the altar in the tabernacle/temple. Behind a heavy curtain was the Holy of Holies (or Holy Place) where God would appear in a pillar of cloud or fire. No one could go in there except the high priest, and he could go in only once a year on the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest would make a sacrifice for himself (for he is a sinner, too) and for the sins of all the people and carry the blood inside the curtain and present it to God. The sacrifice had to be repeated year after year.
Before we read the second reading, first we want to look at Hebrews Ch. 7 and 9 which tell us that Jesus is a high priest, but one far superior to the human ones we read about in the Old Testament. Moreover, here’s why:
Hebrews 7:26-27 “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”
Hebrews 9:11-12, 24-26 “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption”.
24 “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
Jesus himself was both the high priest and the sacrifice for sin. His sacrifice was perfect and total, and God accepted it as final. That’s why he is the source of eternal salvation to all those who obey him. With that background we come to the second reading. It reveals the anguish Jesus experienced as he faced his impending death for sin.
7 “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,” Hebrews 5:7-9 NAS95
The day has arrived that Jeremiah spoke about in our first reading: God would “forgive their iniquity, and …remember [their sin] no more” (Jer. 31:34). Jesus was going to inaugurate the New Covenant, but to do so would cost Him his life. If we had been walking past the garden on that evening, we would have heard loud cries of anguish coming from deep within the garden. Why was Jesus crying? After all, He knew all along that He had come to die. The Bible says His life was not taken from Him; He willingly laid it down for us. It was in God’s good plan before the world began. But the path to accomplishing that plan was so horrible to contemplate that it caused Jesus to cry out with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus knew what the prophet Isaiah foretold—that He would be “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins” (Isaiah 53: 5 NLT). And so Jesus prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In this time of suffering and submission, Jesus’ obedience was completed, made perfect. By perfect we don’t at all mean there were flaws or sins or defects in Jesus that needed to be corrected. No, He was perfect in His being. Perfect in this verse has the idea of being made complete. You see, it wasn’t until God the Son took on a human body that He experienced suffering in the flesh. In His suffering He learned obedience and, in doing so, was made complete.
Enduring the pain of rejection, loss, temptation, and suffering in a body like ours, Jesus became One who can sympathize with each of us in our weakness and suffering. We see this in another section of the Book of Hebrews:
Hebrews 4:15-16 15 “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
What a comfort to know that the One who saves us from our sins is also the One Who has walked the path we are walking and will give grace and help in our time of need. We can draw near to Him with complete confidence.
Moving onto the Gospel reading, we see Jesus himself acknowledging that the time has come to fulfill God’s plan foretold in our first reading in Jer. 31.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. 26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. 27 Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29 So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, "An angel has spoken to Him." 30 Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” : John 12:20-33 NAS95
Just prior to the events of this passage, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. People were flocking to Jesus because they had heard of this miracle, and many, including Jews, were believing in Him. This upset the religious leaders, and they plotted to kill Lazarus and Jesus. They had tried to capture Jesus before, but each time He escaped because “his time had not yet come” (John 7:30).
But in this Gospel reading, we see Jesus acknowledging that the time has come to fulfill His purpose and glorify His Father. A grain of wheat fulfills its purpose of producing grain when it falls to the earth and dies. Likewise, Jesus must die in order to accomplish His purpose of providing eternal salvation for all who believe. Though His soul was troubled, He would not hold back His life but would give it as a sacrifice for others. Because of His sacrifice we have been offered eternal life. We can love this life with its worldly pleasures and sin or we can turn from this life and follow Him. One is the wide road that leads to destruction, and one is the narrow road that leads to eternal life (St. Matthew 7:13-14).
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
1. List the primary aspects of the New Covenant and prayerfully thank God for Christ’s provision. Jesus came to fulfil the New Covenant that Jeremiah predicted. What aspects of the New Covenant resonate with you and sound like Good News as opposed to the Old Covenant?
2. How does it encourage you to be faithful to Jesus this week knowing that He learned obedience in His life through suffering? In what ways can you see God working through your own suffering? It might be helpful to list one particular issue that keeps coming into your mind. How can you surrender this to God and look beyond these circumstances to see God’s sovereign hand?