Friday January 24, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 8:6-13) Gospel (St. Mark 3:13-19)
Saint Paul, in the reading we heard today from his Letter to the Hebrews, takes up the topic of a new covenant. The part we missed is that if there is a new priesthood there has to be a new covenant because there is no reason for there to be a new priesthood if the old priesthood worked just the way it was supposed to, if it was the fulfillment of everything. That same truth holds with regard to a covenant, as he tells us, “If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no place for a second one.” He then goes on to give this lengthy quote from the Prophet Jeremiah telling us about how the first covenant was not complete and that God was going to make a new covenant with His people. And in making that new covenant, Saint Paul says, “He declares the old one obsolete.” Not obsolete in the sense that it is no longer in effect – because God’s covenants are forever, so it is still in effect – but we have a new covenant which builds upon the old one. The foundation is there in the old covenant but now we have a new covenant.
That new covenant, as we know from the Prophet Isaiah and as we have seen before, is Jesus Christ. It is not a covenant with Jesus; He is our covenant and we are incorporated into Christ. We see that new covenant being formed in the Gospel reading today when we hear Our Lord upon the mountain calling His disciples to Himself, and from those disciples, He chooses twelve and makes them apostles. The word apostle means “one who is sent.” The Latin word would be a missionary, same word. Now, in choosing twelve on a mountain, He is also showing that there is something that is similar to the old (but yet a fulfillment of it) and something greater because, as we know, there were twelve tribes in Israel and now He calls to Himself twelve apostles. He is picking up on what was there, but He is making this something even greater because this is not a covenant merely for Israel, but this is a covenant for the whole world. He calls them apostles because He is going to send them out into the whole world to preach, to baptize, and to bring people into this covenant. He gives to them authority to preach and the authority to be able to expel demons. It is a covenant, then, which is going to bring freedom. And that is exactly what we have.
The Prophet Jeremiah tells us that those who are brought into this covenant will not teach one another, “each his fellow citizen and kin saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because all will know Him.” Saint John takes that up in his first letter and says, “We have no need to teach because we already have that; it is written in our hearts and on our minds. We know the Lord.” He is showing us that what was promised in Jeremiah is fulfilled in Christ, and we can see it in these ways. While the old covenant was very good, the new covenant surpasses it in such a way that the old covenant looks as very little by comparison. The old covenant was written on stone, the new covenant is written in the heart. So we need to get rid of the stony hearts and we need to have hearts of flesh, as the Prophet Ezekiel tells us. God is going to do that for us and He has. All we need to do is open those hearts and allow the Lord to enter in there because He is that covenant and He dwells within our hearts and we know Him in our hearts.
Everything is right there for us to be able to embrace this covenant and to be able to live according to the way that He has shown us because not only is He the fulfillment of the old covenant and all the promises, but rather, He is also now the beginning of a new covenant with better promises. And so He is there as the fulfillment of all and He dwells within our hearts as the new covenant, as the means for us to grow in holiness so that we will know God without doubt and He will be our God and we will be His people. His law is written in our hearts and on our minds. It is a law of love, to love God and to love our neighbor. That is what He desires of us. That is what this covenant is about: It is union with God through charity. So it is not just by external laws, but it is by an internal law, the law of love. And since God is love, it is then to live the life of God, to have God dwelling within, to be incorporated into that covenant, and to live it in our lives.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.