31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Last year we celebrated Reformation 500; this year we continue in a church that's still reforming—a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted "worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular" was a mark of the true church. Especially with Reformation we're considering a vernacular church, a church that speaks the common language of the people, that presents Christianity (that's so very other than business as usual, other than status quo) with vocabulary and symbols everyday regular people understand.
Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation. This is one of the four classic Reformation scriptures; today we'll also be hearing from Romans 3 and from Psalm 46 that Martin Luther paraphrased for his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, but instead of the truth will make you free from John 8, we'll continue in Mark's gospel from where we left off last week with the story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus from chapter 10.
God's covenants or agreements with humanity and with all creation are a prominent feature of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and continue into the New Testament / New Covenant scriptures with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from co-venire, coming together, and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East.
A new anything implies an old one, but this is more a new location than it is a new agreement. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't so much the seat of emotions as we think of it in the contemporary Western world as it is the location of a person's will. In Hebrew biology and bible, it goes beyond will or intention to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment, etc. (and also emotion). Jeremiah announces a covenantal word about the neighbor. This new proclamation of God's eternal covenanting relates to creating and sustaining community by following the guidelines God gave the people with the commandments; it will become natural and almost instinctive because it will be incarnate or embodied as part of everyone's being.
Remember the reference in last Sunday's gospel to kings? Remember God's people asking for a king like the other nations had to rule them?
God gave the commandments to the people with very recent freedom or liberation from working under conditions of imperial Egyptian slavery as the background. The people received the commandments as words of grace in the wilderness on their way to settling in the promised land, not when they reached their destination. Although God remained and still is the ultimate ruler (king, sovereign, monarch) of all of us, the commandments show people how to govern and rule themselves.
The commandments shape the people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves my considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff.
Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the Sinai covenant of the ten commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the reverse of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets our wrongdoings.
Closely related: a note about the apostle's Paul's telling us in Romans the law doesn't save us. Almost every time Paul says "law," he refers to ceremonial, sacrificial, law and not to the covenantal, neighbor-oriented ten commandments.