Look for the angels in the desert of your soul
On the First Sunday of Lent, we heard of the very broad Noahic covenant that articulates God’s special relationship with all living creatures. As we near the end of Lent, today we hear of a more intimate covenant described in the Book of Jeremiah, the covenant written on the heart. The first reading reminds us of the personal nature of one’s relationship with God, an idea that is also echoed in today’s Gospel.
‘I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.’ (Jer 31:33)
What can you do to foster your relationship with God?
Has Lent been a period of prayer and reflection?
How do you cope with suffering?
In the first reading, Jeremiah speaks about a new relationship that will be instituted between God and the people of Israel and Judah. The context is the invasion and destruction of Judah and deportations during the Babylonian exile. While many people experienced suffering, Jeremiah wrote of hope in the future. He acknowledges the failures of the past, when ancestors did not fully commit to their relationship with God. Using a powerful image, Jeremiah describes God engraving the law on each individual’s heart: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” In Hebrew, the word for heart (leb) refers not only to the bodily organ but also to the mind. The heart was thought to be the location of rational thinking and consciousness, similar to the way we think of the brain. When God writes the law on each heart, God instills the requirements deep within the intellectual center so that people can more fully understand the law’s intent, to foster good relationships with God and one another.
In the Gospel, Jesus connects with some of his followers, preparing them for his imminent death. First, we hear of Greeks who wished to meet with Jesus, perhaps showing the broad appeal of Jesus and the future Christian movement to gentiles. When Jesus’ disciples tell him of this potential meeting, he responds by alluding to his impending death. Similar to the first reading, Jesus speaks about suffering and future hope. Jesus foreshadows that he and his followers will suffer, but he reminds them that in order to connect with the Father in heaven, they must serve and follow him.
As Jesus continues speaking with his disciples, he reveals his intimate connection with the Father and the reason for his death. We hear Jesus’ very human concerns about dying, dreading his own suffering and affirming, “I am troubled now” (literally, “My soul is stirred up”). Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, John does not include a narrative of the agony in the garden, in which Jesus prays for his cup, i.e., his suffering and death, to pass from him (see Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36, Lk 22:42). In today’s Gospel, John depicts Jesus’ nervousness over his death, although he quickly reminds himself that he cannot be relieved of this task.
Jesus speaks with the Father in heaven, and the people cannot fully comprehend it, interpreting the voice as thunder or an angel. Instead, Jesus affirms that the voice from heaven is the Father speaking directly to his followers, affirming that by his death Jesus glorifies the Father. Moreover, Jesus proclaims that his death, resurrection and ascension “draw everyone to myself.”
As we enter the final weeks of Lent, today’s readings remind us to reflect intentionally on our relationship with God, calling for prayer, introspection and thanksgiving for God’s salvation. Jeremiah calls us to recognize God’s close connection and interest in all of us, and John inspires us to connect with God through the mystery of Christ’s resurrection.