Thursday, 18th week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 31:31-34
It was hard for a dispirited people to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when the tunnel of exile would last seventy years. So, words of consolation and assurance are important. Jesus, knowing that he was to die and rise again assured his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit, another advocate to help them. These were words of assurance and comfort.
We are in the ‘book of consolation’, chapters 30 and 31 of the prophet Jeremiah. In today’s text the words of assurance and consolation are once again reiterated; “the days are SURELY coming says the Lord.” Yet this coming is not just a relief from the pain of being separated from land and temple (the pillars of Judaism) but by the forming of a ‘new covenant.’ Unlike a contract, a covenant is permanent. It was not God who broke the covenant with Israel, it was the choices that a nation made against their God that brought their destruction
Now God wants to make a ‘new covenant’ unlike the one made with the ancestors of the Israelites. What will be so new in this covenant?
Knowing the repeated failure of his people. God eventually promised a brand-new covenant. When God gave the Torah to Moses it was the people who said to Moses, you go to Yahweh and whatever he tells us we will do. This came from a good heart, a noble heart but God knew of their inability to keep the law completely and so he said “oh that my people had such a heart within them.”
So, in Jeremiah 31, the time has come for God to announce a brand-new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). It is now God who makes the covenant for he says, “I will make a covenant”. He does not say ‘we will’ make a covenant. This was not a bilateral covenant but a unilateral covenant. God says, ‘I am going to do the heavy lifting, I will get the job done, I will set the terms of the covenant; all that Israel has to do is to trust.’
The old covenant tried to control peoples conduct. The new covenant changes people’s character because with the new covenant comes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in giving us power in being able to pull off what God commands us to do.
This little poem sums it all up.
Do this and live the law commands
but gives us neither feet nor hands.
A better word the Gospel brings,
it bids us fly and then gives us wings.
What the law could not do, Jesus in the covenant of grace will do. Under the law we were limited to ‘sheet music’, you memorize whole notes and half notes, you learn all that is in the sheet of music in order to get through the instrumentation. Playing sheet music is like the old covenant. However, in the new covenant, God says he wants us to play ‘by ear’. God is going to put the song in our heart and we will be able to play it.