[Excerpted from the March/April 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Brother John R. Barker, OFM, is a Franciscan friar of the Province of Saint John the Baptist (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.]
The first reading this week takes us back to the time just after the destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. Although many remained in the devastated land, others had been exiled to Babylon or become war refugees in Egypt and elsewhere. Wherever they were, the people experienced the loss not only of home, family, and familiar institutions, but especially a keen sense that they lay under God’s judgment for serious and persistent infidelity to the covenant relationship.
In such a situation, the temptation to despair of the relationship was strong and so a word of comfort and assurance came to Israel. The time of judgment will come eventually to an end, Jeremiah proclaims, and God will repair the broken relationship by establishing a new covenant. This in itself is good news, because it is only in covenant relationship with her God that Israel can be said to truly live.
But the news is even better, because this new covenant is intended to move the relationship forward by making Israel more capable of being faithful to her God. Now God will place his law within the hearts of each individual Israelite, which is to say, that everyone will be able to “know” God and thus be faithful and obedient to God in the context of relationship. The foundation of this new covenant is, once again, the character of God, who shows himself capable of forgiving evildoing and remembering sin no more.