Our Lenten journey continues with a twist on Lectio Divina I’m calling Lectio Divina Diligens. Click on the link to read about this idea, if you’re not familiar with it.
March 18 marks the fifth Sunday of Lent — the last Sunday before Palm Sunday. This week let’s reflect on the first reading, found in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Lectio — reading
See, days are coming—oracle of the Lord—when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke my covenant, though I was their master—oracle of the Lord. But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will no longer teach their friends and relatives, “Know the Lord!” Everyone, from least to greatest, shall know me—oracle of the Lord—for I will forgive their iniquity and no longer remember their sin.
Investigatio — research
If you’re like me, you love the idea of a fresh start. When I used to work in bookstores, our annual inventory always marked a new beginning: we reconciled any shortages that came about because of error or shoplifting, and began our new fiscal year with a sense of confidence that we knew what was in the store, what it was worth, and what resources we had available to work for a profitable year to come.
It seems to me that this idea of a “new covenant” operates the same way. When we confess our sins to God, we are in effect taking inventory — examining our conscience, just like retailers examine their shelves to see what’s there and what’s not. That examination gives us a baseline, where we can tally up our profit and loss (in retail) or turn to God for a frank acknowledgement of our need for God’s mercy and grace (in the life of faith).
But a retailer would have no point to taking inventory if there was not a store ledger: a profit-and-loss statement that computed all the inventory acquisition, sales, and returns, to calculate how much inventory should be on the shelves. You compare what is actually in stock, to what the spreadsheet says ought to be there, to assess if the store has a problem (with shoplifting, or internal theft, or poor management).
When Jeremiah announces Gods new covenant, he includes this wonderful phrase, “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.” American Christians often have this idea that “law” and “gospel” are somehow at odds — that God’s mercy is a good thing, and the “law” is basically just an old-burden, a bunch of antiquated rules that nobody can live up to and Jesus really rendered obsolete.
I think that notion is an unfair way of thinking about law. And when we go back to the Hebrew, we get some insight into just what a wonderful promise this idea of “God’s law written on our hearts” turns out to be.
Using Verbum‘s “Exegetical Study Guide,” I see that the Hebrew word for law is תּוֹרָה (Torah) — yes, the same word that is used to describe the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the-called books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. While the word does mean “law,” it also carries the sense of instruction, or teaching, or even customs. Indeed, in the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, the definition provided for torah is “direction, instruction, law” — suggesting that “law” is less important than “direction” or “instruction” in the meaning of torah. Think less of a legal code imposed by a government, and more of the kind of instruction that a mother offers her children (indeed, torah is a feminine word in Hebrew). This calls to mind for me another feminine Hebrew word, חָכְמָה (hokmah), which means “wisdom.” If Torah provides instruction and “direction” (like guiding an arrow to its target), then hokmah suggests the fruit of experience, the wisdom that comes from life itself, a life presumably devoted to the instruction that leads us in the right direction.
Consulting my trusty Collegeville Bible Commentary, I find this wonderful bit of insight: “the new covenant … will be successful because it will be God and God alone who will put into the hearts of the people the power to respond with love. We call this power “grace,” and as the books of the New Testament, especially the Pauline letters and John’s Gospel, insist, it comes to us along with forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus who died for love of us.” (Emphasis mine).
In the new covenant, God writes in our heart instructions for how to live according to the love of God — how to respond, by grace, to the call of love in our lives. That’s a law I can live with!
Meditatio — reflection
I love all the language of the heart that dances through sacred scripture. In Ecclesiastes, God is said to put timelessness or eternity in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11); and in his letter to the Romans, Paul proclaims that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). And don’t leave wisdom out — Proverbs 2:10 promises wisdom, too, has a place in the human heart. And thanks to Jeremiah, we can also trust that Torah — God’s instructions, God’s direction — can also be engraved in our hearts.
It seems to me that if our hearts contain the Holy Spirt, and the love of God, and the silence of eternity, and wisdom, and the guidance/instruction/direction of Torah — wow. Our hearts are truly a gift, and truly the means by which we can learn and follow God’s way in our lives.
That’s not to say our hearts are infallible (I know mine isn’t), and that we don’t need the wisdom and guidance of other hearts — our parents, our priests, our teachers, our spiritual companions, our elders in prayer. But such guidance is meant to be a “heart speaks to heart” situation, where the love of the mentor/parent/guide calls forth to the love embedded in our hearts, so that we might in grace and understanding, and more fully respond to the grace of God which calls to our hearts.
Oratio — response
God, what a marvelous gift the human heart is! And what a treasure, to think that you choose to engrave in our hearts your guidance, your instruction, your ability to discern the difference between right and wrong. Teach us to hunger for the Torah in our hearts. Teach us to look for it and to listen to it. Help us to recognize in the engraving of our heart, that you are always with us.
Contemplatio — rest
Please join with me at a time that is appropriate for you, to simply rest in the silent presence of God, knowing that God loves you and me and all creation — whether we can feel it or not.
This is the sixth of a series of Lenten devotional posts, written in a spirit of Lectio Divina Diligens — lectio divina (sacred, meditative reading) combined with a contemplative, “diligent” approach to scriptural interpretation. Research into the interpretation of scripture is performed using Verbum.