by Dorothy Stoner, osb
Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Hebrews 5:7-9 | John 12:20-33
In a time when it has become necessary to organize “Stop the Hate” vigils throughout the United States, the Scripture readings for today cry out to be heard. When a bureaucracy that claims to be rooted in the Wisdom of God can write and teach that some people are “intrinsically disordered” because of their sexual orientation, thee readings need to be heard. Because we know that an extremely disproportionate number of young black males are incarcerated each year, we need to be attentive to these readings.
As we remember faithful, reconciling ministers like Jeannine Gramick, SL and Bob Nugent, a Salvatorian priest, being forbidden to work with the gay and lesbian people they love because of what they hold within the privacy of their own consciences or because they don’t use the precise words required by authorities, we know we need to listen to these readings.
After reading and viewing countless news stories that report of angry, bitter crowds of people demanding the death penalty be imposed; of schools, churches, and individuals being targeted for acts of violence; of U.S. government policies being developed and implemented in such uneven ways; of ethnic and religious cleansing continuing day after day, in place after place, we are reminded that we need to learn from these readings.
In a church that continues to exclude women from decision-making roles and refuses them full inclusion in the ministries of that church, these readings cry out to be heard. And the litany goes on.
“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Such a comforting reading, isn’t it? I remember seeing beautiful banners with this quote on them. Many lovely liturgies were planned using this reading. We all loved to hear; it made us feel good. It still does touch something, somewhere deep within me.
As I ponder the meaning and challenge of this reading — of all three readings — today, in light of all that is happening around us, I’m not so certain these readings are meant to lull us into a feel-good complacency. The message seems to call for — may I even say, demand — a whole reordering of how we think and how we live, how we encourage others to think and how we empower them to live.
In this new covenant that Jeremiah describes, no one can claim to have a more intimate relationship with God than another. Our God, Godself, will touch each one’s heart. God, and no one else, will write the law on each one’s heart. There is no need to have mediators to arbitrate the relationship between God and the people. Every person, “all, from least to greatest, shall know me, says God” (Jer 31:34). No one will have to teach us how to know God, for we are already in relationship with God, at God’s own initiative.
It doesn’t sound like anyone has a special revelation here. What a tremendous vision — and promise — of mutuality, truly a “discipleship of equals.” Surely the vision and the promise of a covenanted community that values the wisdom and the insights of all others. One that rejoices in the full development and inclusion of all others. And when is this vision — the promise — fulfilled? It already has been in Jesus Christ.
We read in the Gospel of John, “And I when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). And, “Whoever serves me, the Father-Mother will honor” (Jn 12:26). And how do we serve Jesus? By serving another — all others.
Yet the readings also remind us that living the reality of this vision, of this promise, is not easy. It requires a death so that new fruit can be produced. It demands a dying so that rising to a new life can happen.
We are nearing the end of our Lenten journey. Are you ready to die to old patterns of thinking and acting, so that you might be part of the resurrected vision, the resurrected promise? What are these old patterns that need to die? We are at the dawning of a new millennium. Will you be part of sharing this new reality? Will you expect that others will, too, and accept nothing less?
* This reflection appeared in The Sabbath-Year Journey through Lent: A Covenant of Listening, published by Pax Christi USA in 2000.