[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 readings for Lent this year highlight a fundamental feature of the Old Testament witness to God, which is that God likes to make covenants. We’ve already been reminded of the covenant God made with Noah and “every living creature” after the flood, and of the covenant God made with Abraham (captured in the reiteration of the promise of land, descendants, and blessing at the end of the episode on Mount Moriah). This week, we hear of the Ten Commandments, which represent the covenant at Sinai. In the next two weeks we will ponder God’s response to a broken covenant and his promise of a “new covenant.”
This sustained attention to covenants suggests it will be worth briefly considering God’s predilection for making covenants, and what this might offer us for reflection as we continue through Lent.
It has been said that the difference between a contract and a covenant is that a contract is intended to protect the interests of individual parties to the contract, whereas a covenant is intended to protect the relationship shared by the parties. Marriage, for example, is a covenant intended to nurture the relationship between spouses; a pre-nuptial agreement is intended to protect one spouse from the other should the marriage fall apart. In the Bible, God makes covenants for the simple reason that God likes to form and protect relationships.