Reflections on the Readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent
This is one of the most easily remembered references to a quotation from the Old Testament (31:31) and is, in fact, referred to by a number of New Testament writers in relation both to the Eucharist and to the Redemption brought about by Jesus. Although taken by these authors to refer to the new covenant founded on Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, it refers in the first instance to a new covenant that will be brought about at the end of the Exile in Babylon. The return of the Exiles was seen as a second Exodus and ranks alongside that seminal event in the annals of the Jewish People. The people had fallen foul of the original covenant between God and Moses on Mount Sinai (two weeks ago our First Reading was the giving of the Ten Commandments, the foundation stone of that Covenant). Both kingdoms (of Israel and Judah) had been destroyed, but now there is a promise of something new with a law imprinted on the hearts of the people, rather than on tablets of stone.
Two themes are key to understanding the Letter to the Hebrews: Jesus’ thoroughgoing solidarity with humankind (“one like us in all things but sin”) and his being the fulfilment of all that the former covenant (the Old Testament) had looked forward to in a Messiah. In today’s extract we see both themes illustrated: Jesus is completely one with us in his suffering; he is also the pre-eminent person praying the Psalms of lament from the Old Testament (“offering up prayer, aloud and in silent tears”). The Readings at this stage in Lent are now turning very clearly to the climax of our preparations which will begin with Palm Sunday just one week from now.
This event comes immediately after St John’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – an event portrayed in all four Gospels. For John, however, this is Jesus’ third trip to Jerusalem during his public ministry and he has already cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers in this Gospel (we heard that story in our Gospel for the 3rd Sunday two weeks ago). Now we find Jesus meeting some Greek-speaking Jews from Bethsaida – quite possibly friends of Andrew and Philip, themselves natives of the town - who approach Jesus on their behalf. In many ways the context is irrelevant to the two central themes of what Jesus has to say: the grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying in order to produce a great harvest; and his being “lifted up from the earth”. The tension is mounting and the drama is unfolding as we approach the climax of Lent.