The first lesson is Jeremiah, 31:31-34. The Psalm is 51:1-13. The epistle is Hebrews 5:5-10. The Gospel is John 12:20-33.
There are so many threads in these readings to untie, or (trading metaphors) so many paths to go down, that the short space I’ve allotted for these reflections do not allow a full exploration — and a couple of the most promising of the individual potential topics are so complicated that they merit a much fuller exegesis than I can provide here.
So let’s focus not on the most intellectually interesting paths, and not on the Gospel, but on the simple but profound verses from Jeremiah.
Critics of the Christian practice of treating Jesus’ life and teachings as fulfillments of prior Jewish prophecy say that Christians are cherry-picking verses and reading new meanings into those old verses in ways that either are out of context or else that aren’t intellectually sound. But that criticism can’t be applied to these verses from Jeremiah. Christians are not shoehorning a foreign interpretation into these verses; the verses are crystal clear and can provide almost no other interpretation than the one Christians cherish.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. [Henceforth,] I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
This is not a parable. This is not allegory. This is specific: The old covenant, even as valuable as it will remain, will be superseded by a new and even greater covenant written not on stone tablets but in the hearts of individuals. God’s former way of giving hard and fast rules and punishing all rule-breakers will be replaced by a new way of teaching love (in the form, as we later learn, of the Two Great Commandments), as an inward and heart-felt obligation and joy simultaneously. In addition, God offers forgiveness to the faithful who fail the rules but who do not fail to have faith in God’s love — and who act as vessels of that love to others.
Jeremiah prophesized a new covenant. Jesus delivered it personally to us. To paraphrase the pop song: “I don’t know much, but I know He loves us. And that may be all we need to know.”