Sunday Sermon for March 17, 2024, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

In the first reading we have one of the most important passages in the entire Old Testament.  God tells us through the Prophet Jeremiah that He will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  He tells us that it will not be like the covenant He made with Moses and the people of Israel when they came out of Egypt. 

That covenant, which is the Ten Commandments, is written on stone; it is something external to the people.  It is still an agreement between God and the people, in fact, that covenant brought Israel into a spousal relationship with God.  They were already the People of God through the covenant God made with Abraham, so this covenant made at Sinai brought the people even closer to the Lord.

Even with this closeness, when the people broke the covenant with God, the Lord says, “I had to show myself their master.”  The relationship between a master and a servant is more like the relationship between a boss and an employee than it is like a husband and wife.  Although the servant is part of the household, in a sense, he is still an outsider because he is not part of the family.  This is what the people chose when they broke God’s covenant: they would rather be part of the household than part of the family; they would rather be a servant than a spouse.

In the new covenant, God says He will place His law within the people and write it upon their hearts.  Unlike the old covenant that was an external agreement, this covenant is internal.  Being internal means it does not merely hold a person bound by the terms of the agreement, it actually affects the person intrinsically and changes the person.  In this case, it does not make those who enter the covenant into the people of God, it makes them children of God.  This covenant is entered into at the moment of baptism and makes us members of Jesus Christ and heirs of eternal life.

When we read the other two readings today, we might be tempted to think God is showing Himself a Master rather than a Father.  After all, we hear about Jesus offering prayers will loud cries and tears and learning obedience through what He suffered.  In the Gospel Jesus talks about a grain of wheat falling to the ground and tells us that He is troubled.  On the surface it might appear negative and even despairing, but in both readings we see the positive and hope-filled outcome: Jesus is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, He glorifies His Father, and tells us that the judgment is on the world and that the ruler of this world will be driven out.

So, the Lord is not showing Himself to be our Master; rather, He is demonstrating mastery over the enemy of our souls, over the vile creature who tried to make himself our master.  This mastery over the evil one consisted in entering into the enemy’s stronghold, death, defeating him, destroying death, and revealing true, divine, and eternal life for us.  Another way of looking at this, is that Jesus broke the yoke of Satan that was laid heavily upon the shoulders of humanity.

But breaking the yoke, freeing us from sin and death, was only one aspect of what our Lord did for us.  He also offered to every person the opportunity to enter into a relationship with Him that is so intimate that we become members of His very Person, participating in His divine nature and sharing in His divine life.  We still call Him Lord, Master, but the connotation is diametrically opposite of the meaning we saw above when God had to show Himself the Master of the people.

This new covenant is the very Person of Jesus; it is a relationship of love where He freely chooses to serve us and we freely choose to serve Him.  Both make themselves the servant of the other because both have chosen to love the other.  So, He is Lord and Master, not because He is like the boss; He is Lord because we serve Him by loving Him.  We do not serve out of fear or constraint, but freely out of love. Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  In other words, He came into this world and made you His master in order to serve you out of love.  Now it is our turn to choose to serve Him by loving Him.  Jesus promises that where He is, there His servant will be, showing us that this love transcends this world and brings us to Heaven where we will love Him and be loved by Him for eternity. 

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit