The prophet Jeremiah suffered and wrote early in the 6th century B.C. That was more than 1000 years after Abraham. During those centuries God had chosen the Jewish people to be his very own people whose just laws and good behaviour would draw others to the knowledge and love of God. They were supposed to be a light to the nations. To this end, God sent them prophets from time to time to point out their errors and recall them to his service. This means that Jeremiah takes his place in a long line of prophets, men chosen by God to guide his people.
We heard these words just now: See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but not a covenant like the one I made with your ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. Naturally we want to know the nature of this new covenant (or alliance) and this is what the Lord says: Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people.
Let’s pause a moment here. In our culture, if we are not doctors specializing in cardiology, when we speak of the heart, it’s because we regard the heart as the seat of the emotions. That is our view; it was not the view of the Jewish people. For them, the heart was the seat of the human intelligence and its will-power. So that line from Jeremiah could read: Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it in their intelligence. With that understanding, the commandment to love God is not addressed to the emotions. It is addressed to the mind: think of the greatness of God; think of our insignificance in the sight of God; recognize our dependence on God; then bow down in adoration before him.
This passage from Jeremiah represents an important development, initiated by God, in the relations between God and each individual human person. Whereas, previously, the chosen people were a collective, where the sins of some led to punishment for all – military defeat or exile for instance – now individual human beings were to assume responsibility for their own choices and decisions. I think this position is one with which we all feel comfortable.
Let me turn now to the gospel. You remember that when they were guests at the wedding in Cana, and Jesus’ mother quietly pointed out to him that They have no wine he replied: My hour has not yet come. That was in the second chapter of St John’s gospel. Today we’ve read part of the 12th chapter – and what does Jesus say? Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. And what is the signal that the hour has come? The arrival of the gentiles. Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These would be proselytes, people thinking of becoming Jews, but they’ve heard something of Jesus and they want to know more: Sir, we should like to see Jesus. They were speaking to Philip – that’s a Greek name – and he told Andrew (another Greek name) and the two of them took the Greeks to meet Jesus.
Jesus understands that the coming of these people from the non-Jewish world is the beginning of the internationalization of his mission. That is why he can say that the hour has come – the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. ‘Glory’ properly belongs to God so Jesus is anticipating that even the gentiles are to see that he participates in something which is truly divine. I wonder what the newcomers made of the next words Jesus spoke: I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain: but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. The agricultural fact would have been obvious – but why was he telling them this? I guess it’s part of the preparation of his followers for the scandal of the Cross. Death is the gateway to eternal life. Jesus is to pass through that gateway and his divine glory will truly be manifested at the resurrection. These things would only become clear to the disciples and the Greek enquirers after those events had taken place.
Meanwhile, Jesus has some words of warning for his followers: Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me he must follow me … Jesus does not promise his hearers an easy path through life, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced our share of challenges, pain and difficulties. Then he turns to his own situation: Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name! Jesus recognizes the significance of the hour. It fills him with foreboding. For a moment he thinks of asking to be spared it, but quickly reminds himself that the Father has entrusted him with a mission. In exclaiming Father, glorify your name! he is effectively saying “Thy will be done”. Was it the Father’s will that Jesus should be tortured and crucified? I think not. But he was asked to bear nobly the worst suffering that human beings can inflict on one another and withal to remain firm in his trust of his Eternal Father.
Just now we heard a short passage from the letter to the Hebrews. During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death. I take that to be a reference to Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. In his gospel St John situates the arrest in the garden, but does not describe the agony. Nonetheless we can see from the passage we have been examining that John was aware of Jesus’ very human dread of the suffering which lay ahead of him. The author of Hebrews continues: Having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.
This of course is the very purpose of the incarnation. At the end of Lent each year we re-read the account of the Passion of Our Lord to remind ourselves of what he endured for us. And each year we need to ask ourselves this question: am I living in a way that befits a person for whom the Son of God suffered and died? (Contributor)