Daily Homily: I Will Make a New Covenant

Thursday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two

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Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:12-13,14-15,18-19
Matthew 16:13-23

Today’s Liturgy of the Word presents two very powerful themes: in Jeremiah, we read God’s announcement of a New Covenant; in the Gospel of Matthew, we listen to Peter’s confession of faith: «Your are the Christ, the Son of the living God».

The theme of the New Covenant is common to several prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The New Covenant, as we read today, will not be like the unsuccessful covenant with Moses; instead, it will be a restoration of the covenant with David. Jesus Christ, the Son and heir of David, is the one who restores this covenant and brings it to fulfillment in the new. «According to [the Letter to the] Hebrews, the New Covenant is superior to the old (that is, the Mosaic covenant) because it is established by a better mediator (Christ versus the high priest; Heb 8:6, 9:25), based on better sacrifices (the blood of Christ versus the blood of animals; Heb 9:12, 23), in a better sanctuary (heaven itself versus the earthly tabernacle; Heb 9:11, 24)» (S. Hahn, «Covenant», Catholic Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 174).

The New Covenant fulfills all the other covenants in the history of salvation. Jesus is the new Adam who makes us into a new creation; he fulfills all the promises of the covenant made to Abraham. «Even the Mosaic covenant, which to a certain extent is abrogated (Gal 3:19-25) is fulfilled in its essence by the New Covenant, which grants believers the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the very heart of the Mosaic Law, the commands of love for God and neighbor» (S. Hahn, «Covenant», Catholic Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 174). The law of the New Covenant, Jeremiah writes, will be written on our hearts. This New Covenant is able to forgive sins and grants us profound knowledge of our Lord God.

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the Mosaic covenant is transitory, while the covenant in Christ abides perpetually. Paul, he writes, sees the transience of the first symbolized by the stone Tables of the Law. «Stone signifies what is dead; anyone who remains exclusively in the realm of the Law written in stone remains in the realm of death. Here Paul was no doubt thinking of Jeremiah’s promise that, in the New Covenant, the Law would be engraved on the people’s hearts; also he may have been thinking of Ezekiel, who had said that the heart of stone would be replaced by a heart of flesh» (J. Ratzinger, «The New Covenant» in Many Religions – One Covenant, Ignatius Press,53).

The Old Covenant is particular, concerns the ‘fleshly’ descendants of Abraham, depends on the principle of inheritance, is conditional since it depends on the keeping of the Law, and can be broken and has been broken; the New Covenant is universal, is addressed to all peoples and is based on a spiritual relationship created by sacrament and faith, bestows the gift of friendship, and cannot be broken (see J. Ratzinger, «The New Covenant», 66-67).

In bringing all the covenants to fulfillment, the New Covenant restores and transforms the Davidic covenant: «Jesus Christ is the Son of David who rules eternally from the heavenly Zion (Heb 12:22-24) and manifests his rule over Israel and all the nations (Matt 28:18-20) through his royal steward Peter (cf. Matt 16:18-19; Isa 22:15-22, esp. 22) and his other officers, the apostles (Luke 22:32; Matt 19:28; cf. 1 Kgs 4:7). Thus James sees the growth of the Church among Jews and Gentiles as a fulfillment of Amos’s promise that God would restore the fallen ‘tent’ (i.e., the kingdom) of David (Acts 15:13-18; cf. Amos 9:11-12)»  (S. Hahn, «Covenant», Catholic Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 174).

We contemplate today not only the fulfillment of the covenants in the New Covenant, promised through Jeremiah, but also the giving of authority to Peter as head of the Apostles. At the Last Supper, Jesus seals the New Covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20) and appoints a kingdom for the Apostles, giving them authority: «You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in the kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel» (Luke 22:28-30).

The Church is called to exercise authority as service and exercises it in the name of Jesus Christ, who received all authority from his Father. «Through the Shepherds of the Church, Christ tends his flock, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter and the priests, their most precious collaborators, to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community» (Pope Benedict XVI, 26 May 2010).

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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