This excerpt of scripture is from what is commonly interpreted and called Jeremiah’s “Little Book of Consolation” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). It points to the classic tension between head religion and heart religion, the tension between what we know about our faith and how we live faith from the heart. Jeremiah wrote to people who knew God’s word but were on the verge of being consumed by their sins and their enemies for failing to live what they knew. The revival of religion they had experienced years before, under King Josiah, had waned and there they were, in the sin-rut again, with the prophet’s feet nailed to his soapbox while he screamed judgment and warning against the people and their leaders because of their sin (their turning away from God and the life he called them to lead).
After such railing, the consolation offered is almost too good to be true. The tension between head knowledge and righteous living is resolved by changing where the Law is written— from stone tablets to the human heart. Our culture often envisions covenant relationships in terms of loyalty or commitment. This may have been true in part for adherents to the old covenant, but God has given us a new covenant. So, for Christians this new covenant brings God into such intimacy with humankind that it minimises or even eliminates our human propensity for breaking God’s heart.
But how? We find clues in the remaining readings from the Lectionary for this week (Hebrews 5:5-10 and John 12:20-33). We are encouraged to find reconciliation with God through Christ and a diligent aspiration to become the people of God through Christian practices such as study and prayer. The passages from Hebrews and John remind us that the mission of God in Christ was to reconcile the world to God reminding us to become familiar with God’s nature, with God’s ways, and with God’s will; thus, writing the word (Word) on our hearts.
In John 12 the appearance of the Greeks who sought after Jesus has always been something of a reminder to me that we never know who is going to be intrigued with the message about the Christ about the resurrected Jesus. These people seem to come from left field, and Philip seems a little puzzled as to what to do with them. Ever have someone like that come to your church or your home and ask challenging, awkward and important questions? We all say we want to reach or get to know new people— but then when we get somebody who is really from beyond the edge of our normal constituency, we struggle.
At such time we find ourselves asking the internal question, “How did they get here?” To Jesus, it seemed to represent an important development; it is almost as if he says, “Okay, you guys; if the Greeks are showing up, then it’s just about time to kick this thing into high gear.” Does Jesus know then that this means the proverbial stuff is about to hit the fan? He seems to intimate such knowledge with his prayer about being troubled and asking God to save him from the hour.
Certainly, the humanity of Jesus is a significant aspect of our shared faith. We can’t always make Jesus into Superman when he must surmount a difficult obstacle, calling on some sort of magical power not available to the rest of us. What God had him do was hard and he must have found himself somewhat reluctant, at times, to carry it forward. To journey in life knowing that his lot was to go through an horrible death through crucifixion must have been really something for Jesus. And, yet, the Saviour is willing to play the part of the kernel of wheat falling to the ground— there is new life yet to come even in the midst of an impending burial.