Friday of week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13

Jesus, with a far higher ministry, is the mediator of a new and better covenant between God and his people.  A large part of today’s reading is taken up with a passage from the prophet Jeremiah, as confirmation of the writer’s argument about the superiority of the new covenant made through Jesus Christ.

The reading opens by stating that Jesus has obtained a better ministry than that of the Levitical priesthood and is the mediator of a better covenant, that is, the covenant that was sealed between God and us by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

Christ is the only perfect mediator because he is truly human and truly divine.  He is the only and only true intermediary between God and the human race.  He unites and reconciles them.  Through him comes God’s love and complete revelation.  And, in heaven, he continues to intercede for those who remain faithful to him.

The author further adds that, if the first covenant had been without fault or defect, it would not need to have been replaced.  But God did find fault with it and that is confirmed by the long quotation from the prophet Jeremiah which immediately follows.  It comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34.  The author follows the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  Some discrepancies with the official text may be because the author was working from a different version or because he deliberately altered the text himself.

In summary, the pre-eminence of the new covenant lies in its superior benefits:

1, God’s laws will become inner principles which will enable his people to delight in doing his will;

2, God and his people will have an intimate fellowship;

3, Sinful ignorance of God will be removed forever;

4, Forgiveness of sin will be an everlasting reality. (NIV Study Bible)

The quotation opens by Jeremiah quoting Yahweh’s words in which he says that he is going to establish a new covenant with the houses of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom).  This new covenant will be different from the one that was made through Moses on Mount Sinai, “when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt”.

There is need now for a new covenant because the people did not observe the first one and so they became distanced from the Lord.  A reading of the books of Samuel and Kings affords abundant evidence of the people’s infidelity to Yahweh and the Law.

This new covenant will be a covenant in the heart and not just in outward behaviour, such as the observance of external rules and rituals.  “I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts”.  And then comes the covenant promise: “I will be their God and they shall be my people.”  It is an agreement that needs to be kept by both sides.

From then on, there will be no need for people to teach each other, saying “Know the Lord.”  Because, by their observance of the covenant and the mutual relationship it implies, they will already know their Lord in the way that really matters – finding and serving him in every area of their lives.

Furthermore, God will show compassion for their past sins and even forget them entirely.  This is idea central to the new covenant.  As we know from Jesus in the Gospel, God only sees us as we are at the present moment.  Where our past is concerned he has a very bad memory!

Now, the Hebrews author resumes his message.  In speaking of a “new covenant”, it is clear that the old one is now obsolete.  “And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.”  Again, the argument is clear: what are the ‘Hebrews’ thinking of by wanting go back to a way of life that has lost its validity for them?

We, too, need to remain faithful and vigilant in our commitment to the Jesus as our link with God our loving Father.  For us, too, it is what goes on in our heart that matters more than what we just do on the outside.

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