"The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel... It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers... for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more."
This is the message from today's first reading, from Jeremiah 31:31-34. What an offer God is making us, to forgive our sins, and to remember them no more. Isn't this what we all want? The famous early 20th century English writer G. K. Chesterton was once asked why he became a Catholic. His answer was a simple one; "To get my sins forgiven." We all stand in need of forgiveness, for we all fall short of God's standards. Jesus sets those standards pretty high, after all. "Be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). When is the last time you met someone you could describe as perfect?
But that's the goal. God wants nothing less for us than to be the perfect versions of who he made us to be. And when we fall short of this (and we do) we need forgiveness.
I once heard it said that God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way. I think there is a lot of truth to that. Many Christians today have a different view. They follow the words of Martin Luther, who once compared the Christian to a "snow covered dung hill." Our sins and failures make us like a hill of dung, in his view, but Christ's sacrifice covers our iniquities and makes us look white and clean, like new fallen snow.
This is a rather legalistic (and not very inspiring) theology. It is a theology that teaches us that we are sinners, and Christ's sacrifice for us merely covers our sins, so that God may overlook them. He remembers our sins no more, as the prophet Jeremiah says.
Well, pardon me for saying this, but that's just not good enough! Yes, we want our sins forgiven, and yes, we want God to forget our past transgressions. We do want all those things promised by Jeremiah. But we don't stop there.
Our psalm response today is, "Create a clean heart in me, O God" (Psalm 51). The psalmist picks up on Jeremiah's theme, and takes it further. Yes, Lord, forgive us. Yes Lord, forget our sins. But then, Lord, this is what we pray you will do for us.
You see, it is not enough for us to simply be "declared clean" and have our sins forgotten about. We want to really be clean. It is only in this way that we can fulfill Jesus' command of perfection....in the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense.Thoroughly wash me from my guiltand of my sin cleanse me.A clean heart create for me, O God...
In our Catholic theology this process is called sanctification. The word means "being made holy." This is the purpose of the Christian life, to grow in holiness, to grow ever closer to the Lord, so that when we die in his friendship, we may be truly worthy to stand before him, and look upon his face. We will truly be the perfect creatures God intended us to be from the beginning.
The prophet Jeremiah promises a new covenant will be made between God and his people. Today, in the Gospel, we are told that covenant is near. "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified," says the Lord in today's reading (Jn. 12:20-33). "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
Jesus is foreshadowing his own death, which we will commemorate next week during Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). "Whoever serves me must follow me," Jesus continues, "and where I am, there also will my servant be."
The Christian life means to follow Jesus. It means to die with him, so that we may rise with him. This means dying to self, giving of ourselves fully, to our neighbors and most of all to God. In this way we are sanctified. In this way we are made clean. We unite ourselves to Jesus. It is for this purpose that he came.
We are now in the final weeks of the Lenten season. Let us pray for one another as we approach the glorious celebration of our Lord's Easter Triumph over death and sin. Let us prepare ourselves to die and to rise with the Lord!
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723