Lesson: Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It 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. 33 But 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. 34 No 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.
After the righteous and reforming King Josiah was killed in battle at Megiddo (from which we get the Greek word Armageddon) in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e., speaking for YHWH) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Jeremiah underwent substantial revisions between the time of Jeremiah (627 to 586 BCE) and the First Century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were different versions of the Book of Jeremiah. The Ancient Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were added later by writers whose theological outlook was closely aligned with the Deuteronomists. (In fact, Chapter 52 in Jeremiah is virtually word-for-word with 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 written by the Deuteronomists after the Exile.)
Jeremiah is largely a prophet of doom and gloom, but today’s reading is part of a two-chapter “Book of Consolation” (Chapters 30 and 31). Today’s section is in prose style, and although it purports to be written during the Exile (586-539 BCE), it is part of a “late stage” of the Deuteronomists’ continuing development of the Book of Jeremiah after the Exile. The thoughts in these chapters are similar to Second Isaiah (Isaiah of the Exile) in stating that Jerusalem would be restored.
This reading claimed the houses of Israel (Northern 10 tribes) and Judah (southern 2 Tribes) broke the Sinai Law Covenant (v. 32). YHWH promised to make a new covenant with them and write the Law on their hearts (vv. 31, 33) so they will know YHWH who will forgive them (v.34). For Jeremiah, the content of the new covenant is not different; it is how it is learned.
Epistle: Hebrews 5:5-10
5 Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The Letter to the Hebrews is an anonymous sermon addressed to Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers which urges them to maintain their Faith in the face of persecution. Most scholars agree it was written well after Paul’s death in 63 CE.
Today’s reading develops the image of Jesus the Christ being designated by God as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek (vv.6,10). Melchizedek was introduced in the Book of Genesis as the King of Salem (an ancient name for Jerusalem). He was also a High Priest of El (one of the oldest names for God and still found in names like Beth-el – House of God). Melchizedek made an offering of bread and wine and blessed Abram (Gen. 14:18).
Here, the author of the letter used Psalm 2:7 (which was addressed to the House of David) to assert that Jesus the Christ is God’s begotten Son (v.5) who, by his obedience and his suffering, became the source of eternal salvation (vv.7-9). In verse 6, the author quoted Psalm 110:4 (which was also addressed to David), but in verse 10 he expanded the title by changing the title from “priest” to “high priest.”
Gospel: John 12:20-33
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The “festival” referred to in verse 20 was the Passover, and today’s reading follows immediately after a description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in which the people greeted him with palm branches and continued to testify about the raising of Lazarus (v.17), much to the consternation of the Pharisees (v.19).
Unlike the Synoptic Gospels (particularly Mark), the cross in the Fourth Gospel is not about suffering. It is where Jesus, as Son of Man, is lifted up and glorified (v.23). This message is not only for the Jews, but also for the Greeks (v.20) – the Gentiles. Indeed, the author asserts, when Jesus is lifted up from the earth, “all people” will be drawn to him (v.32).
In affirming that a grain of wheat must die to bring fruit, the author may have drawn on a similar thought in 1 Corinthians 15:36 which was expressed about 40 years earlier by Paul.
According to the author, Jesus’ death will reverse the “judgment of the world” and will drive out the “ruler of the world” (Satan – or the forces of evil) (v.31).