March 20, 2021; Jeremiah 31:31-34; 5th Sunday of Lent
God promises a new covenant, a new relationship with the house of Israel, in today’s first reading. This promise comes through the prophet Jeremiah, and the promise is necessary. The Jews were exiles in Babylon. They were helpless and hopeless. Their old relationship with God no longer worked. They needed something new. But they could not bring about that newness on their own. Only God could change the terms of their relationship. That is precisely what God promises to do.
Now, for you and me, the challenge of this reading is not to believe that God could change the relationship to Israel, but to believe that God can change the relationship with us. When you and I look at our lives, we see many things we would like to change. We would like to believe more deeply, forgive more easily, love with fewer conditions. But when we try to move in that positive direction, we often fall short. Despite our best intentions and honest efforts, we remain stuck in our flaws. Like the house of Israel, we are helpless and hopeless. This is why it is crucial for us to believe that God can change us, that God is able to alter the terms of our relationship, that God can make us new.
We believe in God, but when it comes to changing ourselves, we try to do it ourselves. We think that our strategy and efforts can break a habit of sin or make us more generous people. But that is seldom the case. What we need is not different plans or more willpower. What we need is a new relationship. The good news is that that is exactly what God wants to give us.
We enter into that new relationship when we entrust ourselves to God, when we admit our weakness and inability to change, and ask God to transform us. When we say Lord, “I have been so hurt by that person that I cannot bend to forgive. I need you to bend me, so that I can let go of this hate. Lord, I have put such high expectations on my spouse and my children, that they are harming my relationships. I need you to loosen my expectations, so I can love the people in my life as they are, rather than how I want them to be. Lord, I am so quick to judge others because of their race, sexual orientation, or political viewpoint, and that fills me with anger. Lord, I need you to quiet those prejudices, so that I can live in peace again.”
When we are helpless and hopeless, God promises to change us. God promises to write, in a new way, on our hearts. Now, then, is the time to open our hearts, and let God in, so that we can become the people we are called to be.