Obedience to the covenant for Israel is everything. To obey the Law, giving over every dimension of one’s life to the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, is a return gift of love to the God who first loved us.
To break the covenant (that is, to harden one’s heart against the divine will) is a rejection of divine love. Israel’s worship of a golden calf after passing through the Red Sea, their worship of false gods and their cultivated forgetfulness to care for the stranger, are occasions in which God’s covenant of love is spurned.
In the prophet Jeremiah, we hear the promise of a new covenant: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).
Up until now, the Law has existed outside the will of Israel. To follow the divine will necessitated a conversion of the will unto God. Yet, in this new covenant, the divine will is to become part of what it means to be a son of Israel.
It will become part of the identity of each and every son and daughter of Israel to obey the covenant. This obedience of love will become as easy as opening our eyes in the morning.
This close union between the divine and human will is to be understood as a marriage. God promises a total union of wills with Israel.
God will be the God of Israel.
Israel will be God’s people.
In the Gospel of John, we encounter the fulfillment of this new covenant of love. The Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father, reveals that his own will has been conformed entirely to the Father’s.
Jesus is the grain of wheat that descends into the earth, obediently bringing forth new fruit.
Jesus is the healing medicine lifted up high upon the cross, revealing to men and women the new reality that human nature can be offered entirely to God as an act of love.
Jesus’ name is the very glory of God. For in this name, in the person of the Word made flesh, we are given a glimpse of what it means to be fully human: We are meant for total, sacrificial love.
We, too, can follow along the path of obediential love practiced by our beloved Jesus. For in his sacrifice upon the cross, he offered the human will entirely to God, writing upon our hearts a new covenant of love.
We are called to follow Jesus Christ to the cross, for “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9).
Such obedience is now a duty of delight. Too often we Christians make our salvation into a matter of obeying a series of commands. Be a good parent and spouse. Care for the poor. Love your neighbor. Go to church.
That’s not the Gospel. There is obedience involved. But it is the obedience of giving over our wills to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who loved us unto death.
Of course, there’s pain involved in this reformation of our desires. Like Israel, our hearts have been hardened. We’ve become bumbling mumblers in the desert of our discontent.
As we progress toward Calvary in the final days of Lent, the goal isn’t just conforming of our will to God; rather, it is to delight in the presence of a love that is our deepest identity.
Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of man, glorify thy name in me.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.