Engaging the Word: Readings for 3/22/15 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

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By Barbara Klugh

 Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. Extraordinary readings this week: Jeremiah offers God’s people the hope of a new covenant, David prays for God’s forgiveness and mercy, the author of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus is our Great High Priest, and Jesus prepares for his impending death.

God the Father, c. 1480 - 1490. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

God the Father, c. 1480 – 1490. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 31:31-34: Much of the Book of Jeremiah is about God’s judgment and punishment for sin. But from the very beginning, when God commissioned Jeremiah, God said, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

In this week’s reading, Jeremiah is about building and planting. But more than that, God “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The new covenant will replace the old one, which God’s people have broken again and again. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

In the only reference to a new covenant in the OT, Jeremiah was talking about the return from exile, yet this is a universal and eternal message of hope for all people. Christ sent us the Holy Spirit to write God’s laws on our hearts, to guide our thoughts, words, and actions.

David by Giovanni Andrea Sirani (1610 - 1670). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

David by Giovanni Andrea Sirani (1610 – 1670). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Psalm 51:1-13: This week’s heartfelt prayer of repentance is one of the seven penitential psalms. It is attributed to David after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba. When the burden of sin is heavy, this psalm gives voice to our contrition as we pray for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses….Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me….”

Hebrews 5:5-10: Composed somewhere between 60 and 90 AD by an unnamed author, the purpose of the letter was to strengthen the faith of believers by showing the fullness and superiority of God’s salvation in Christ.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In this week’s reading, the author explains how Jesus was appointed by God to be “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Melchizedek was a priest mentioned in Genesis who blesses Abram and brings him bread and wine, prefiguring Eucharist.) The readers of this letter would understand the vocation and job descriptions of the priesthood. They are appointed by from among men to represent people before God. They are to offer gifts and sacrifices both for their own sins and the sins of the people.

Jesus was not a descendent of Aaron, or from the tribe of Levi. Jesus belonged to the order of Melchizedek and fulfills the requirements of priesthood. Jesus did not seek his own glory. God chose him. Jesus could identify with human trials and weaknesses in his life of temptation and prayer (though he was without sin). He wept. He showed anger. He suffered. So even though he was already God’s Son, he lived a life of obedience even through his suffering and death, and “having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

John 12:20-33: This week’s reading takes place right after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the Passover festival is approaching and many pilgrims had come to Jerusalem, including some Greek-speaking Gentiles.

Gentiles Ask to See Jesus, by James Tissot (1836 - 1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gentiles Ask to See Jesus, by James Tissot (1836 – 1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Philip and Andrew tell Jesus that some Greeks desire to see him. In response, Jesus speaks of his approaching death. Somehow Jesus understood that this visit was a sign that his “hour,” his time of self-revelation, had come. He alludes to his death by talking about how it is only when a grain of wheat dies that it will bear much fruit. True followers serve Jesus and share his relationship with God, who will honor them. William Barclay comments on this text, “It is sometimes only when a man buries his personal aims and ambitions that he begins to be of real use to God….By the death of personal desire and personal ambition a man becomes a servant of God.”

Jesus says, “Now my soul is troubled, but he refuses to ask the Father “to save me from this hour” because he knows his death is his destiny. Jesus asks the Father to “glorify your name.” the Father reassures Jesus with a loud voice from heaven that is heard by the crowd, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

Jesus tells the crowd that those who turn away from him are judged, and Satan’s power over people will be broken. When he is crucified, “lifted up from earth,” salvation of all will be possible because Jesus will “draw all people to myself.”

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