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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - One Promise That Can't Be Broken

Robert Barron - One Promise That Can't Be Broken

Robert Barron - One Promise That Can't Be Broken
TOPICS: God's Promises, Israel

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading for this fifth Sunday of Lent is taken from the thirty-first chapter of the book of the prophet Jeremiah. And there's a passage I want to draw your attention to at the very beginning here, which is super easy to remember because it's Jeremiah 31:31, thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah, thirty-first verse. When you get your Bibles out today, find that little passage. It is one of the most pivotal in the entire Bible. And now here it is: "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah". The days are coming when a new covenant I will make.

Well, as you know, the God of the Bible is a covenant-making God. Covenants aren't contracts. Those are exchanges of goods and services. Covenants are more an exchange of hearts. So God says, "I will be your God, you'll be my people," and then under certain conditions. So we have the covenant with Noah, for example, sealed with the sign of the rainbow. You've got the covenant with Abraham, sealed with the sign of circumcision: "Abraham, I will make you the father of many nations". You have the great covenant with Moses. Remember, he seals it by sprinkling blood on the altar and blood on the people. But the covenant with Moses, that's accompanied by the Ten Commandments and all of the moral and liturgical instructions of the book of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers. We have the great covenant with David: "A descendant of yours I'll place on your throne and his reign will last forever".

And then David's covenant is sealed by all of the sacrifices in the temple. God makes laws and agreements and covenants with Israel, trying to bring them into conformity with his own mind and will. Now, here's the thing about all these covenants and all their various prescriptions: Are they good? Sure, they're good. But they tended to remain, if we pay attention to the Old Testament, they tended to remain somewhat external to the people. They didn't reach all the way into their hearts. You know an example from learning a sport, or learning a musical instrument, or learning a language. You can read the rule book in regard to these things. And that's helpful; you understand the basic principles of hitting a baseball or playing a guitar. But until those laws work their way into your body and your mind and your instincts, well, then you can't really play the instrument, or you can't really play the game, or speak the language.

There's that wonderful moment, and anyone that's gone through this process recognizes it, when these things that were at one time very foreign to us, I always think of the golf example because it's such a hard move. And you study the diagrams of what that swing should look like, and when you try it, you feel so awkward because it's just difficult. But the moment when it gets so into you that it's sort of second nature, trust me, it hasn't happened to me perfectly with golf. Or with a foreign language: you're studying this syntax and grammar and declensions and conjugations and all these principles and rules, but they're so extrinsic to you. But then there's this moment, sometimes it happens when you're dreaming.

I remember when I was learning French and living over in Paris, the first time I had a dream in French is I realized, "Okay, this has now reached its way into me. These laws aren't external to me. They're now becoming second nature". Now, with that in mind, revisit Jeremiah 31:31: "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah". So, yes the Noah covenant, yes Abraham, yes Moses, yes David, all of that. He's not denying it. But the days are coming when something really new is going to happen. Now, what is it? What is it? Well, listen now just a touch later: "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people".

You see what's being described here, everybody, is precisely this moment now in the spiritual order when these external laws and prescriptions have now become so internalized that they're second nature to us. "I will write my law not on tablets of stone but on the flesh of your heart". See, that's what Jeremiah 31:31 is predicting. Okay. Now, fast forward from the time of Jeremiah, oh, almost six hundred years, and we come to this rabbi from Nazareth, Yeshua, who's preaching the kingdom of God, drawing people into the power of this new way of seeing, new way of being. Come to the climax of his life as he enters Jerusalem to the adulation of the crowds.

Oh, he's so famous that all of Israel wants to be with him, but we hear even Greek, so even outsiders, want to come to see him. Our Gospel now is about this moment when Greek speakers are seeking out the Lord Jesus. He says to them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified". And they probably thought, "Oh, that sounds pretty good. So this celebrity figure, this great moral and spiritual and religious teacher whom we've been attracted to, and yes, the time of his glorification has come. Terrific". But then listen as he describes what that glory consists in: "I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit". Okay, this great figure, this celebrity, this religious leader, and his glorification's coming, and what's he talking about? Dying?

Listen, listen, everyone, to this line again, because this sums up all the law and all the prophets. You want Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, you want all the laws, you want all the covenants, all the prescriptions, they come down to this, because this is now the Torah made flesh, this is the Word made flesh speaking. He's summing up the Law: "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit". That's a great image, everybody, and I want to spend a little bit of time with it. I want you to make this a focus of your meditation. Think of that little grain of wheat, the little seed. Hard. Protected. Seeds can last a long time. They've found seeds that they can still plant that are from like tens of thousands of years ago.

A seed squirreled away can retain its integrity. But unless the seed, listen now, dies, unless it breaks open, unless it gives itself away, it remains just this little tight, hard, protected shell. But if it dies, look what it produces. I'm out here in California. If you go up the coast now a few hours and you come to those great Redwood trees, some of the most magnificent plants on the planet. Think of that Redwood tree, this huge thing that's been around for thousands of years, in some cases. How did it start? It starts as this little, tiny seed. And if you'd squirrel that seed away somewhere, it would just be that: just this little thing. But because it died, it broke itself open, it gave itself away, it gave rise to this magnificent organism.

So it goes now in the spiritual order. What does the world teach us? To stay as these little, self-contained, protected seeds: "Oh, no, no. Whatever you've got, hang onto it, because the world's a dangerous place. The goods that you have, hang onto them, protect them". Mind you, and I don't want to overstate this; don't write me letters, but you know what I hate? I hate the language of safe spaces. I know; we don't want people being treated with gratuitous verbal violence and all that stuff. Of course I'm against all that. But there's something about a culture that's putting such a premium on being safe: "Oh, no, keep me safe. Oh, no, it's dangerous. Stay protected". We're not meant for safe spaces, everybody. We're meant for spiritual adventure. You know what "love" is?

The trouble, that word in English, it just has automatically sentimental overtones. Love, as Dostoevsky famously put it, is harsh and dreadful. Why? Because love means exactly this: It means the cracking open of one's life. It means not living in a safe space. It means giving one's life away with a kind of reckless abandon. Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a little safe space. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. Look at the saints now. I've been reading a lot Walter Ciszek recently. That's a famous American Jesuit, who as a young kid volunteered, put his hand up, when he heard the call that Pope Pius XI wanted to send priests into the Soviet Union where religion was being persecuted, but he knew his people were in danger. "Are there priests willing to take the risk"? And young Walter Ciszek just put his hand up: "Me. Send me. I'll go".

And off he went to study in Rome to prepare himself. And then he enters into Russia at this horrific time, right when the Nazi war was going on and Stalin. He gets himself arrested. He spends twenty-three years in solitary confinement or at hard labor in Siberia. Talk about someone that didn't live in a safe space, he broke his whole life open! And look at the fruit that it's born. Now, we're thirty or forty years after his death, but a book he wrote when he got home finally called "He Leadeth Me" has been drawing people into the power of the Christian life. Think of right at that time, when Walter Ciszek was in prison in Russia, not too many hundreds of miles to the West, in the terrible Auschwitz death camp, this Franciscan priest comes forward when one of his cellmates was going to be put to death and he said, "I'm a Catholic priest. Take me".

And Maximilian Kolbe, in that moment, when he allowed his life to be broken open, when he gave himself away, unleashed a spiritual power that remains vibrant all over the world. Now, suppose at that key moment, and no one would have blamed him, if Kolbe had tried to protect himself. And let's say he survived the war, and then lived, I don't know, how many more years afterwards. He would have been remembered and reverenced by his friends and family, but then probably promptly forgotten about. But instead, he broke his life open. He didn't live in a safe space. He risked. In so many of the great stories of the hero's journey, think of whether it's Bilbo and Frodo in "The Lord of the Rings," it's Hercules in the ancient myths, it's Luke Skywalker in our modern myth of "Star Wars", what do you find?

Same thing: these people don't live in a safe space. They're drawn out of the safe space. Think of the little cozy hobbit house of Bilbo. It's meant to be very, very, cozy and comfortable and, "Oh, I don't want…" No, no; he's called out of that, out of that onto an adventure, and from that breaking open of self comes this extraordinary spiritual power. That's it, everybody! That's what the Word made flesh says. "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit".

Now, just a last point. Go a few days after he said this. The night before he dies, Jesus takes bread: "This bread, this is my body given for you". And then, listen now to me, everybody, listen to me, over the chalice: "This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant". What's He talking about? Jeremiah 31:31: "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will place my law within them". Every time we attend Mass, we hear those words. And what's Jesus doing, but he is anticipating when he will break his life open, giving himself away on the cross. "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit".

Now, you come forward at Mass, and the priest or the deacon or the minister says, "The body of Christ," and "The blood of Christ". And you say, "Amen," and then you ingest those elements. What's happening? Listen: "I will place my law within them. I will write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people". Be careful what you eat, everybody, because what you're eating and drinking is this law, is the law of the new and everlasting covenant, which is now going to be inscribed in your body, on your mind, and in your heart. That's the whole spiritual life. And God bless you.
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