3/8/2012 9:01:00 AM WORD OF FAITH What's our covenant
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR MARCH 11, THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT 'God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.' - I Cor 1:25
Unless we understand the biblical concept of "covenant," we'll only skim the surface of today's readings.
A covenant is an agreement, a formal contract, between at least two parties. Each party has specific responsibilities; each has rewards. It's a classic "quid pro quo": You give me something; I'll give you something. People freely enter into covenants - for instance, marriage - because they believe such agreements will create a better life for them.
Today's first reading (Exodus 20:1-17) provides the basic covenant responsibilities of the ancient Jews. In return for following through on these obligations, they become Yahweh's special people and receive all the "goodies" such a relationship guarantees.
Most of us probably learned these 10 responsibilities early on. Though it's good to keep them, there's just one problem: They're someone else's covenant, not ours!
The very introduction to these 10 commandments tells us this covenant wasn't made with us: "I, Yahweh, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery."
My ancestors came out of Germany and Belgium, not Egypt. Except for Seventh Day Adventists, Christians haven't kept the "sabbath" regulation for the last 19 centuries. And most followers of Jesus have expanded the sixth commandment to encompass much more than just adultery.
As we hear in I Corinthians 11, we Christians are committed to adhere not to the 613 Sinai regulations, but to the responsibilities of the covenant Jesus made with Yahweh - a covenant which we ratify every time we drink from the eucharistic cup. We're committed to carry on Jesus' ministry.
In the first chapter of I Corinthians (1:22-25), Paul bemoans the fact that many of the people he attempts to evangelize - both Jews and Gentiles - reject that "new" covenant. They specifically object to its obligation to die with Jesus.
"Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom," the Apostle writes, "but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Dying with Christ
John presents one aspect of dying with Jesus in Sunday's Gospel (John 2:13-15). The earliest followers of Jesus were forced to choose between imitation of Him and dedication to organized religion. Though institutions like the Jerusalem temple offered security and unified Jews all over the world, Jewish Christians no longer put them at the center of their lives of faith.
Jesus' encounter with the temple's animal dealers and money changers is a classic Gospel demonstration of how even well-intentioned religious institutions can be corrupted. In John's theology, Jesus takes the place of the temple: "'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up'....He was speaking of the temple of His body."
When the evangelist speaks of believing "in His name," he's saying that people are committing themselves to doing the things He did.
I suspect the reason some Christians still display the Ten Commandments revolves around the dying responsibility that's at the heart of Jesus' covenant. It's far easier to commit oneself to keeping just 10 regulations than to accept the obligation to constantly give oneself to and for others.