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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ Our Covenant of Love with God

What is our relationship with God?   In ancient times, there was often an attitude of bargaining or exchange with God.  This was the attitude which lay behind the practice of offering sacrifice.  Such sacrifices of animals, crops or other gifts were a way of dealing with God.  In exchange for the offerings, God would care for and protect the one who sacrificed.  This was the role of what we see in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple was a concrete sign that God dwells among God’s People.  It represented the relationship between God and the People of God.


For Israel, this relationship was much like a marriage.  It was seen as a covenant relationship in which each expressed its commitment to the other.  The Old Testament is filled with many examples of such agreements.  But the great covenant for Israel was the one founded on Mount Sinai during the Exodus from Egypt.  God who had chosen Israel, liberated and led them from slavery in Egypt, through the desert of Sinai to a new land.

In the course of this journey, Israel became aware of the special relationship that they had with this saving God.  They recognized themselves as special, a people saved from bondage by their God and held in a covenant relationship with this God.  In response to their liberation, the People’s call is related in the Book of Exodus, more explicitly in Exodus chapter 19 – 20ff on Mount Sinai.  This is Israel’s responsibility in their covenant with God.

The awareness of the covenant relationship evolves over time like any relationship, and we see this evolution expressed later in the Old Testament in the words of some of the prophets.  Perhaps one of the most significant growths of the covenant relationship comes with Jeremiah, who looks ahead to a new covenant for God’s People.  He indicates that it will not be like the covenant made at Sinai on tablets of stone: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel….  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer.31:33)”.

In the person of Jesus, we have this new covenant represented.  It is a covenant that creates an open relationship with God.  Jesus’s death and resurrection is the sacrifice of the new covenant, replacing the sacrifices of the Temple.  These sacrifices were like prices and costs constantly having to be paid as a sign that the people’s relationship with God was a part of a bargain.

In John’s Gospel (Jn.2:13-25) we find the story of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple.  It is a story that sometimes surprises us as we see Jesus expressing upset at what he finds there.  John tells the story as a lead into seeing our relationship with God in a new light.  For Israel, the Temple was the sign and symbol of God’s presence in their midst.  It was the place of sacrifice to God.  As Jesus speaks to the people in the Temple, he redirects their attention from the physical Temple building to himself as the Temple.  The Gospel account points out that this all came to make sense to the disciples after the Resurrection.


Jesus then, becomes the sign of God’s presence among us.   He represents a new way of seeing our relationship with God.  God’s care and love is not dependent on what we offer to God.  It is not affected by sacrifices we might present.  It is not the result of bargaining with God.  Our relationship with God is a free and unconditional gift from God.  We do not have to bargain or win God’s love and we cannot lose it.  It is always there for us.  The response is to accept this love in all its expressions and to honour the giver of all life.


Pope Francis has expressed this sentiment in many ways.  Not the least of these is in his encyclical Laudato Si. Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality (2015).  As he begins this appeal “On the Care of Our Common Home”, he emphasizes that the earth is our indeed our “common home” and we have a shared interest and responsibility for it and for all creatures with whom we share this “home”.  Further, he points out that we are not left to our own devices in this.  He holds that God who created all out of love, continues to love what he has created.  He points out: “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us.  Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home (LS. 13).”  We are Temple of God’s making, the object of God’s love.

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