Sunday, March 29, 2009

Christ Learned Obedience From What He Suffered.

The LORD says, “I am going to make a new covenant with my people”. A covenant is a solemn agreement. The old covenant was delivered to the people of Israel when Moses received the Tablets of the Law from the LORD on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). By the terms of this covenant, Israel would be the LORD’s people, and He would be their God. (Jeremiah 7:23). This covenant was celebrated in many ways, two of which are mentioned in Exodus 24: First, a lamb was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the altar, then, the people gathered together in their homes to enjoy the ritual meal: the main course was roast yearling lamb, and the other dishes were reminders of the Exodus from Egypt. The symbolism was the God and His people were one family.

It was six hundred years before the coming of Christ that Jeremiah first spoke about a “new covenant”. He contrasted the old covenant, inscribed on stone tablets, with the new covenant, written on the human heart. “Deep within their being, I will implant my law. I will write it on their hearts.”

At the Last Supper, according to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said , “Take this, all of you, and eat it; this is my body which will be given up for you.” Then he took the cup, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you, and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.”

In a few days, Jesus will be seen, “glorified”, not only by the Jews living outside of Israel, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the “Pilgrimage Feast” of Passover, but by us as well. Jesus compares himself to the grain of wheat that must die to being just a grain of wheat, but will rise again as a new stalk, with many kernels and grains of wheat. This discourse also anticipates what Jesus will tell his disciples gathered in the Upper Room after washing their feet, before they share the paschal meal. Those who seek to follow Jesus must die to themselves, giving their lives to serve God’s people.

Jesus’ prayer is a prelude to his prayer of agony in the Olive Garden. His fidelity to his mission has cost him great pain and suffering, to the point of sweating blood. The hour of the supreme sacrifice is coming near.

There is an old saying that says, “What goes up, must come down”. For Jesus, what goes down into the tomb will rise again; the body that died for the sake of humankind will rise to new life, to be shared with humankind. The new covenant is a covenant of love, and love demands dying to selfishness in order to live in union with the other. Absent this gift of self, the Church would not be a community at all, but a collection of egos in competition and conflict with one another.

One last word, about the Second Reading: While he was living on the earth, anticipating his death, he offered up pleas and prayers to God, with loud cries and tears. He pleaded to be saved from death, because he honored God, God answered his prayer. Yet God did not save him from death. If he had, the Redemption would not have taken place. Instead, God gave to his only-begotten the reward of his obedience, granting him the grace to endure what he was subjected to, so that, by his sacrifice, he would become the fount of salvation for all who believe in him, and are obedient. Trust Jesus, and he will do likewise for you. If it is the will of the Father, your pain will be taken away. But, as Teresa de Avila, Rose de Lima, Therese de Lisieux and many others have learned, your cross will not be taken away, but you will be given the grace to endure it. This, as He said to the first mentioned of these saints, is the way he treats his closest friends. And you probably don’t need to be reminded what she said back to him!

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