NRSV JEREMIAH 31:31-34 A NEW COVENANT
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 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.
The book of the prophet Jeremiah can seem like a lot of bad news. God speaks bluntly to us about our failure to be steadfast, loyal and loving toward God. Even so, Jeremiah has its passages of consolation too. Today’s passage is one of them. “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant, with [God’s people],” we read. A new covenant — this time written directly on our hearts. It is as if God looked at the covenant given to Moses and written on the tablets of the law and then considered that it would be even better to write the law “within them.”
What are we to make if this? Once again we find God deeply committed to us and willing to start over, re-establish the relationship on new terms, “remember [our] sin no more,” and move forward together.
Sometimes I meet Christians who say to me, “God is unchanging. God is sovereign. God does not make mistakes.” I think I know what they are anxious about. They fear that if we suggest that God is trying something new in order to improve God’s relationship with us, that it implies that God didn’t know what God was doing the first time, or maybe was not powerful enough to make the first thing work. But to assume that omniscience and omnipotence are only definable by “being right” and “staying the course” is to severely limit the power and knowledge of God. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It’s one of the great mysteries of our faith.
I had a seminary professor, Dr. Bob Ramey, who taught me that “kindness is better than being right.” At church we often remember that little bit of wisdom. When we are arguing over some ministry decision we keep in mind that kindness is better than being right. When we are correcting one another in Christian love, we recall that kindness is better than being right. When we are engaged in ministry in Kenya, or Louisiana, or at the Shelter, and we are thinking judgmental thoughts — we discipline our hearts by remembering that kindness is better than being right. Maybe, in sovereignty, God looked upon God’s people in compassion, and chose to be kind by trying again to bridge the chasm of our apostasy. God could have simply said, “I was right when I gave them the law of Moses, and I’ll wait till they adopt it sincerely as their own.” But thanks be to God that compassion moved God to re-establish the covenant in an even more intimate way.
In John 13:34 Jesus gives us yet another “new commandment.” A new commandment, mandatum novum, is where we derive the title for Maundy Thursday. In his farewell address to us, our Lord assures us that when we abide in him we will discover that he and the Father abide in us. He then reminds us that the world will be able to see that God is in us to the degree that we “love one another.” Could there be any more direct instruction to us in how to become mature in faith and bound to God than to participate in God’s deep love for us and for our neighbors? I think not. Let us search our hearts diligently. Let us discern the handwriting of God written upon them. Let us seek God — letting love be our guide — and we will not be disappointed.
Prayer — Lord Jesus, we give thanks to you for the new commandment to love one another. We take your love of the Father and your love of us as the model for our own loving. May the world truly come to know that we belong to you by seeing our love for one another. In Jesus' name. Amen.