“Behold the days are coming, says YHWY, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them up out of the land of Egypt – a covenant they broke, though I was their spouse, says YHWY. But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says YHWY: I will put my Law in their minds and on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will they have to teach one another or remind one another to listen to YHWY. All of them, high and low alike, will listen to me, says YHWY, for I will forgive their misdeeds and remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31: 31-33, Inclusive Bible translation)
Such hopeful words from the prophet who mourned with his people over their exile in Babylon, and who brought them to task for abandoning their faith and straying from the law which stitched them together as a people! Such healing balm from the prophet who depicted the mental image of “Rachel weeping for her children!” And yet it is the same Jeremiah, who when all seemed and indeed was lost, saw hope. I imagine how the message now fixed in these chapters was received by the exiled community. Were they skeptical about the prospect of YHWY’s favor? I think they probably were, and they probably believed that they could never earn that favor back after straying so far from their God and the law that defined them as a people. But Jeremiah, speaking for YHWY, says nothing about earning. Rather, Jeremiah depicts YHWY as a wronged spouse who despite betrayal and hurt is waiting with open arms, ready to renew the love-relationship. And this time YHWY promises to make it easy for the people to be faithful by imprinting the beloved law onto their hearts.
In his sermon “Etched in Flesh” Water Brueggemann draws on Jeremiah’s hopeful words and expands our understanding of them. He reminds us of Jeremiah’s conviction that it is God who yearns for new life with Israel, and that despite their infidelity God offers the people a completely new, slate-clean relationship. Brueggemann’s term for this new covenant is “a new start-up of fidelity,” and I think that is very apt. It is from scratch, nothing from the past dragged in.
Brueggemann reminds us that the law which had been abandoned by the people and would now be etched in their hearts represented much more than religious practice, dietary regulations, etc. Rather, the underlying law spelled out in the book of Deuteronomy is more about justice than diet, more about treating the poor with compassion than wearing the right clothing. This was the law that would be etched into the hearts of the people of Israel: economic justice for all, including the poor.
This is the law which is etched onto our hearts as well, and the hearts of all who walk this earth. We just need to listen to our hearts to know the only law that counts.
From Deuteronomy, to Jeremiah, to Jesus, to our lives today, the law may be expressed in different words, but is the same world-over. It crosses all religions and cultures. It is the call to treat others fairly, to love the people with whom we share this earth.
At the Upper Room Inclusive Catholic Community, each week as the bread is being broken we as a community repeat this promise: “Oh Holy One, You call us to live the Gospel of peace and justice. We will live justly. You call us to be your presence in the world. We will love tenderly. You call us to speak truth to power. We will walk with integrity in your presence.” These are the words spoken by our mouths and etched on our hearts.
At Baptism we welcome a new child (or adult) into our community. As a human being sharing life on this planet we believe that the words of the law of justice are already there, within the heart. But this is a time to speak the words aloud, to proclaim them. And so we do this, and with great joy: “By asking for Baptism within the Christian community, you are promising to teach (your child) to live justly, to love tenderly and to walk with integrity for all to see and celebrate.” (from the Baptismal Rite used at the Upper Room) This is a new life, and with every new life comes new hope, a covenant written anew on the hearts of the whole community. What joy!
At Confirmation we recognize the commitment made by the person being confirmed. This is another reason to celebrate, that the promises made on that person’s behalf at Baptism have taken root, and blossomed into a desire to make an adult commitment to justice. Each commitment, each energetic YES to standing on the side of Love is another reason to celebrate. All is not lost, no matter how dim the future of the world may appear, when the law of love and justice is etched and alive in so many hearts!
Denise Hackert-Stoner is a candidate for priesthood through the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. She will we ordained a deacon in Albany, NY with Julie Corron on Saturday September 7, 2019. This reflection is part of her ordination preparation program through the People’s Catholic Seminary.