Jer 31:31-34 | Ps 51 | Heb 5:7-9 | Jn 12:20-33
The English Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote about original sin that “it is the only Christian doctrine that can be proven.”
What did he mean by that?
Original sin is the Christian teaching that, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, we all inherited a tendency to sin. It means it is hard for us to do the good we know we should do, and easy for us to fall into the sin we know we should avoid. We only have to take an honest look at ourselves and the world around us to know how true that is. So, whereas people might disagree about whether Jesus was the Son of God, whether the Bible is the word of God, or whether the Catholic Church is the Church that contains the fullness of truth, no one can argue that human beings commit evil acts. Unfortunately, it is proven out time and time again.
Five weeks into our Lenten pilgrimage, our own sinfulness might be very clear to us. We may have started out on Ash Wednesday with high hopes of dedicating time to prayer, fasting, and service to others only to see our human weakness get in the way. We wanted to do good but found ourselves slacking off. We wanted to avoid evil but found ourselves falling back into sin. Over and over again, we may have found ourselves slipping back into the tendency to disregard and even disobey God.
(MGW, “How is your Lent going? Finish strong!”)
The people of Israel also knew very well how difficult it could be to trust God and follow His ways. Yet, time and time again, God showed His faithfulness to them by sending them prophets to call them back to Him. He showed mercy in forgiving them and calling them to live differently than the nations around them.
In today’s first reading, God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah. He talks about the disobedience of His people and how they broke the covenant He made with them. Then He says, “I had to show myself their master”.
What does God mean by that?
At its root, sin is a failure to acknowledge that God is God and that we are creatures. When we sin, we make ourselves the master. By breaking God’s law, we proclaim that we know better than He does about what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin is the absurd assertion that we are the masters and that we are in control.
There is only one way to break out of that sinful cycle. It is to acknowledge God as our master and to submit to His will. However, we don’t do that slavishly and blindly. We don’t do it out of an irrational fear. Rather, we submit to God out of love. Yes, He is our Master, but He is also our Father. He loves us unconditionally and faithfully. Everything He wills is for our good. Sin damages us but God’s grace restores us. The key is to surrender our own will and commit ourselves to doing God’s will.
Because we are weak, committing ourselves to doing God’s will is not easy for us. However, this is where the second part of today’s first reading comes in. God makes a promise to His people that He will establish a new covenant. This new covenant won’t be written on tablets of stone but written on our hearts. God tells us He will place His law within us and that all of us will know Him. This new covenant will not only tell us about the good we should do but give us the power to live it out.
If those words “new covenant” sound familiar it is because we hear them every Sunday at Mass when the priest repeats the words of Jesus over the wine saying: “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”
God’s promise of a new covenant is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus accepted the Father’s will unconditionally, even when it meant his death, he changed everything for us. The same spiritual principle by which Adam and Eve’s original disobedience damaged us, makes it possible that Jesus’ obedience can restore us. Jesus’ “yes” to the Father undoes Adam and Eve’s “no.” We can now say “yes” to God through Jesus Christ who made that possible for us.
So, we don’t have to be stuck in a pattern of guilt and shame. We can turn to God who is rich in mercy and generous in forgiving us.
We also don’t have to be stuck in old habits of sinfulness. We can turn to Jesus who strengthens us against temptation and empowers us to not only follow God’s law, but to truly love others from the heart. God has made a new covenant with us written on our hearts in the blood of Jesus. His Holy Spirit is at work within us cleansing us, restoring us, and invigorating us.
As sons and daughters of this new covenant, let us go out, then, and fill the world with the knowledge of God’s love.
So, if this Lent hasn’t been the best – if you, perhaps, have been less than faithful to your resolves from Ash Wednesday: gently enough, set that aside for now – because it doesn’t matter how many times you fall on the journey, but rather has everything to do with how you choose to finish the race!