The New Covenant

A Reflection by Fr. Peter for the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year B).
Jeremiah 31:31-34 – Hebrews 5:7-9 – John 12:20-30.

What an astounding promise is made in today’s First Reading! I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah [it is the Lord who speaks].


Until c.626 BC, there were three promises and conditions contained in God’s original covenant with His people, as communicated by the prophets:

  • God is One, and His inexpressible Name is YHWH (Yahweh).
  • The twelve tribes have been chosen by God to be His People.
  • Because God has chosen them, the people are obliged to live lives pleasing to Him by observing His Law (comprising the ten major commandments and 603 subsidiary laws).

In the reign of Josiah, however, the prophet Jeremiah delivered God’s promise of a new covenant with His people, because they had been falling into sin by failing to keep all the laws simultaneously. It was the self-seeking heart – the intellect and the will – that caused the ideal of the Law to be ground down by legalism. In Jeremiah’s vision, the Old Law concerning truth, goodness, justice and relationship would remain in place as a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Ps 119:105) and be fulfilled in the New Covenant internally in the individual rather than externally in the community. While the original Covenant was set in stone (Ex 31:18), the warmth of the New Covenant advances an alternative approach as a means of encouraging people to please God and to love God.

The New Covenant will not be written on stone tablets. Rather, it will be written in the hearts of believers. The huge number of laws set in stone will be superseded by God Himself inscribing His law of love in the very hearts of His people. The hardness of the cold stone will be replaced by the softness of the warm heart.  I will implant my law, writing it on their hearts. The seed of love will be implanted in the hearts of lovers of God to evoke a response of love to His love, and from this mutual relationship of love will sprout the confidence of faith, putting down roots and spreading as it grows to form a robust, intertwined root system of faith. The heart of love is the foundational concept, and its nurture and its growth in truth will produce goodness, justice and relationship both with God and with everyone’s fellow man.

In the New Covenant, God Himself will teach His people. God is our Creator & Sustainer, and we are His people. We will no longer need doctors of the Law to teach us the Law of the Lord, because God will make Himself known to each one of His people. They will all know me (v.34). God will reveal Himself directly to every individual.

The New Covenant will be the covenant of mercy and forgiveness, not of punishment and vengeance. God will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Another translation has it that God will “forgive iniquities and forget their sins.” To ‘forgive and forget’  means to ‘pardon and deliberately not remember’. It’s impossible to miss the extravagant mercy that God offers His people in the New Covenant, assuring His people of both forgiveness and indulgence. ‘Indulgence’ is the pardoning of sin and the waiving of punishment incurred through sin. In the New Covenant, ‘the heart’ – defined as the inner nature of man comprising the mind, the will, the emotions and the personality  – is made new.

The moment prophesied by Jeremiah saw the light in Christ the Light. In the Gospel, Jesus said: the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus mentions ‘the hour’ seven times. In this fourth ‘hour’, the hour has come and the exaltation (lifting-up) is imminent. It was what Our Lord came for (Jn 12:27). The Son of Man will be crucified, will die and be buried, but He will rise from death to ascend to glory. In the 2nd Reading, the writer to the Hebrews asserts that the obedience of Christ to suffering and death on our behalf freed us from spiritual death.  By His obedience, the Lord Jesus, immanent God, established the New Covenant. Christ IS the New Covenant in Person.

Today, the New Covenant is active. Christ is present in our hearts. It is up to us to accept or decline His offer to blot out every stain of sin from our souls. As we journey through these last two weeks of Lent, the Church established on the Rock of Peter calls us to keep the Passion and Death of the Lord at the forefront of our Lenten meditations. The New Covenant written upon our hearts makes us weep for ‘our sins, offences and sacrileges which offend Him so much’ (the Fatima prayer). We desire Him to cleanse our hearts and make us pure: a pure heart create for me, O God (Ps 51:12). Glory be to God, in His mercy we are healed of every stain of sin, if only we will ask for His forgiveness! We contemplate Jesus ‘lifted up’ on the Holy Cross, and we beg Him to help us to draw us to Himself. We want to be where Christ is, in heaven; and for His sake we have to be willing to lose our lives in service to Him and our neighbour in order to gain it: 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. Amen. God bless you.