Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our Covenant of One Revisited (Lent 1B)

Samuel Goldwyn, the legendary movie producer, never said the famous words “a verbal contract ain’t worth the paper it’s written on.” But apparently he liked the line so much that he was perfectly happy when people attributed it to him.

The fact is, valid contracts can be verbal or in writing. Nonetheless, for the agreement to last, it pretty well needs to be written down.

Bishop Fulton Sheen, the first and (surely!) last priest to have his own network radio and TV shows, was once carefully studying his contract for a television program. He looked up and said “the big print giveth, and the fine print taketh away.”

Fortunately for us, God chose to sign written contracts with his people. He signed the first one with a rainbow. He signed the last with the blood of his Son.

Of course we don’t call these contracts—we call them covenants.

The word ‘covenant,’ which we hear in the first reading, is a translation of a Hebrew word meaning a sacred contract of partnership. All the Semitic peoples believed they were bound to their gods by such contracts, but the covenant with Israel was a free and sovereign initiative by the Lord himself. [“Covenant,” Louis Bouyer, Dictionary of Theology, 104]

This covenant was fundamental to God’s plan as revealed to Abraham; it was at the very root of the existence of the chosen people as the People of God.

Throughout the history of Israel, God showed himself to be faithful to his covenant while demanding their faithfulness in return. Ultimately, he announced through the Prophets that the covenant based on the Ten Commandments had to give way to a new and everlasting covenant written on human hearts.

All this was in the mind of Christ when he instituted the New Covenant at the Last Supper.

I’ve just noted the essential importance of the covenant to God’s plan. One theological dictionary says that the idea of a plan centred in the formation of a people that is truly God’s own, completely underlies the Word of God. And the notion of a divine plan is behind the idea of Providence through which, as St. Paul says, all things work for good for those who love God. [”Plan,” Louis Bouyer, Dictionary of Theology, 351]

All of which should be more than enough to focus our attention on the words of our first reading today. In this short text from the book of Genesis God himself uses the word ‘covenant’ five times. The promise he makes, that there will never again be a world-destroying flood might not hold our attention—but behind it is a marvellous promise of a time of salvation.

Behind it, too, is the reminder of baptism. The only flood God will ever cause to purify the world is the flood of Grace poured out in the baptismal font.

We are blessed to live under the New Covenant, but there is much to learn from the story of Noah. The world got a fresh start from the Great Flood; we get the same every Lent.

Countless people were destroyed by the waters of that flood, while Noah was safe in the Ark. Although we, too, are threatened by the raging waters of “greed, lust, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and materialism” we, too, have been offered safety in an ark: the Church.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Church floats us over the flood waters to a place of safety. [S. Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire, 33]

All this, and more, is promised to us in the New Covenant we celebrate at Mass today. But although God’s covenant with his people has changed, he has not. In response to his perfect faithfulness, he still expects that we will be faithful to him in return.

In the Sundays before Advent our parish celebrated God’s covenant with us. We narrowed our own response to the simplicity of a ‘Covenant of One’—one extra hour of prayer, one hour of Christian service, and one hour’s weekly wages offered to the Church.

Now Lent has arrived. Can there be a better time to take stock? How have we been doing in honouring our pledges to the Lord?

If you’re still working out your Lenten program, nothing could be simpler than to recommit to these three pillars of stewardship and Christian life.

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