Summary: God’s fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy about writing his law on our hearts is a project lasting our whole lives because we’re all like pesky computer documents or ink-resistant paper with, of course, no "Spell Check."
5Th Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2009
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
The image from our first reading, of God writing his law on our hearts, is very consoling and meant to encourage us. This purpose becomes all the more clear by the passage’s contrast with most of Jeremiah’s prophetic message, which was harsh and very strongly worded. Jeremiah’s was a voice speaking warning from God about the ways the people were straying.
So today’s reading shows us that the Lord knew, even as he inspired this prophet to have a strong word, that he also needed to speak a word of mercy, kindness and consolation to the people. God inspired Jeremiah to let them know that God recognizes our weaknesses and our struggles and knows that on our own we aren’t able to fulfill the divine law.
To enable us to obey his commands and fulfill his plans, God knows that we need his very life, his grace, his strength and his power within us. As Scripture says elsewhere, it is God who gives us both the desire and the ability to obey him and to do his will (see Phil 2:13).
And so part of that image of the law being written in our hearts is that it will come from within us, an ever greater desire and an ever stronger ability to be like Christ Jesus, as we heard in the opening prayer: “Father, help us to be like Christ your Son, who loved the world and died for our salvation. Inspire us by his love, guide us by his example, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
The image of writing could call to mind one complication. That is, if we are honest with ourselves we all could probably admit that we may not always be the best medium for God to write on. We might not always cooperate with the Lord when he wants to fulfill his “writing assignment,” which is one way you might describe God’s work of writing his law on our hearts.
Now here’s another complication. Even the simple term, “to write,” or the image of “writing,” might call to mind very different things for people here in church today. Across the generations represented here, for instance, we have very different experiences of what it means to write.
Those differences came to mind with this past week having been spring break. You see, one young lady’s spring break involved a challenge and a bit of a chore. Her grade school has a very rigorous and advanced writing program. So even though it was spring break, she had an assignment of writing a journal to be able to give a report of what she did during break. At first, she figured that would be a piece of cake. You know, she’d just keep track of what she was doing on her laptop. And since she’d be texting all her friends to update them on what she’d be doing all week, she could save those messages. Then she’d upload the text messages to her laptop, cut-and-paste those together with the journal she’d be keeping, have her document-writing software edit it all, and just print it.
Then she had to face the fact that her spring break was to be spent way out in what she considers the middle of nowhere in eastern Oregon with her great-grandparents who wouldn’t know a computer from a space shuttle. And so she gets there, and there’s no computer. There’s no ability to get or send calls or text messages using her cell phone. See, no satellites are close enough because she’s out “in the middle of nowhere.” Certainly there’s no wi-fi; there’s nothing!
But she’s got to keep this assignment, and so she has to struggle with this ancient, antiquated technology called “pen and paper.” And she’s struggling and making mistakes and crossing things out and crumpling up the paper. Her great-grandfather is watching this with great amusement. Finally he says, “Little Dearie, why are you having such a hard time with this writing assignment?”
And she picks up the pad of paper and says, “Great-grandpa, I can’t figure this out. Where’s spell-check on this thing?”
Just like that uncooperative and difficult writing medium that the young lady faced, we might cause the same difficult writing experience for the Lord, as He pursues the on-going project of writing his law on our hearts.
Of course, God has nothing wrong with his ability to write his law, but we offer resistance. Somehow, what God is trying to write just won’t stick to the surface of our hearts. And so we’re invited to apply this image to see that the Lord in his compassion and, quite literally, his timeless patience does not give up on us. He continues to write. He realizes that in fulfilling his prophecy to write his law on our hearts, the first time he writes it is not going to be the final draft and the final version.