Broken hearts and God’s word
By: By Barbara Roedel
Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,14-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33. (When the Third Scrutiny is celebrated with the elect, these readings may be used: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-2,3-4,5-6,7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)
A clear shift takes place in God’s relationship with the people of Israel in our first reading from Jeremiah. Two weeks ago we read in Exodus 20:1-17 that God delivered the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone to Moses. The commandments established a covenant between God and the Israelites. Today the prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant.
This Scripture passage contains some of the most beautiful words that Jeremiah wrote and gives us a glimpse into our gracious and loving God. Jeremiah proclaims hope to people who have been unfaithful to God, promising that God will not forsake them. Quite the opposite, God not only keeps promises to the people of Israel, but God raises the bar higher. God promises a new covenant, an intimate covenant, a covenant not written on stone but written on the hearts of God’s beloved.
The covenant begins by remembering God’s faithfulness to our ancestors throughout history and promises faithfulness to us, too. Rich in mercy, God not only forgives all our sins but also promises to forget them. So great is God’s love that God writes this covenant upon our hearts drawing us ever nearer to receive God’s unconditional love and compassion.
Eight times in this short passage, God promises to act — “I will make a new covenant”; “I took them by the hand”; “I will write upon their hearts”; “I will be their God”; “I will forgive,” etc. God desires and initiates an intimate relationship with us. To respond, we must open our hearts to God’s grace.
In a Hasidic tale, a disciple asks the rabbi, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”
We all experience a broken heart some time in life. There is no way to escape it. A loved one dies, we have a fight with a sibling, we become alienated from a friend, we lose something precious to us, we have to deal with disease and disability. It is at these times our hearts break wide open and God’s words, God’s love, God’s faithfulness and compassion fall deep into our hearts. As we face these new challenges with God, a new relationship is forged transforming our heart’s capacity to hold our pain and our joy.
As our Lenten season is coming to a close, take quiet, reflective time to pray. Open your heart to God’s word allowing it to fall in and sink deep into your heart. Joyfully receive God’s grace. Changed by God’s love, reach out to a person whose heart is breaking. In doing so, you’ll help God’s word fall into their heart, too.
Barbara Roedel is the pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.