IT”S A MATTER OF HEARTS
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119, John 12:20-33
April 9, 2000 by Tad Mitsui
I have had some fabulous jobs in my life. That does not mean, I got all the jobs I wanted. I received more rejections than acceptances. But in retrospect, I can now say I am glad that I did get those jobs. When I sent in my résumé, I had often followed my heart not my mind. My life could have been very difficult, even disastrous, if I had those jobs that I did not get. There is a saying, "Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."
We see in retrospect more clearly than in prospect. That”s why when we make decisions about future, we tend to follow our hearts, and they do not always tell us what is wise. Life would be a lot easier if we could see the future as clearly as we see the past. I often wish that our hearts and minds would speak in one same voice, so we have less grief. Often, I know what should be done, but I don”t do it, because my heart is not where it should be. I am completely in sympathy with Paul, who said in his letter to the Romans, "Even though I know very well what is good, I can not do it, and I do what is not right. What a wretched creature I am!" This is where Jeremiah”s "New Covenant" comes in. With the old covenant, God had to guide the people by the hand, but the new covenant would be written on the hearts of people.
Jeremiah lived at the time when the whole Jewish nation was facing a total disaster. Soon after, the Jews would become a nation without a country for three thousand years. Jeremiah said that it was the price they had to pay for breaking their covenant with God. They ignored his laws. But Jeremiah said, God would forgive them, and give them the new Covenant, which would be written on their hearts. Their minds could follow their hearts. Reason would be a tool for passion. They would want to do what was just and right.
The Bible uses the word "covenant" often. It is an important word to understand the relationship between God and people. A covenant is a solemn agreement like a contract. But there is a difference between a covenant and a contract. A covenant is a personal commitment. However, a contract is a legally binding agreement, that is enforced with the threat of a penalty, if it is broken. Lawyers say that a mere commitment without a penalty clause is meaningless, because it is not enforceable. But religion is a covenant with God, which is an agreement of hearts without the caveat of a penalty. In religion, mind should be an instrument of the heart. When the heart decides the destination, the mind will find the best way to reach it. Love is a matter of the heart, and the law is a matter of the mind.
The old covenant that God gave through Moses was often broken by people, because it had remained a matter of the mind – mere knowledge. When the rules remain only as knowledge, you will soon find how to break them because there is no commitment to abide by them. As a saying goes, "When you know the rules well, you know how to break them properly." All of us want to know the laws so as to find loopholes, which is the kind of thing that makes lawyers rich. Laws and rules without a commitment to the spirit behind them do not make sense, like following a map without having a destination.
The basis of the laws of Moses was the right relationship between God and people, and among people. We believe that the only right relationship is the one based on love. If there is no commitment to love God and others, then laws are meaningless. God demonstrated his love through the laws of Moses, because the laws showed the best way to live. People could return God”s love by obeying the laws. That was the covenant. But they broke it, because the laws had remained in their minds as mere knowledge. There was no heart in their understanding of the laws. There was no passion in their desire to keep a good relationship with God. They saw God only as a big scary guy in the sky with a stick, not as a loving parent.
So through Jeremiah, God offered a new covenant. In the new covenant, "the laws would be within them, because they were written on their hearts." God began by "forgiving their sins and no longer remembering their wrongs of the past," as the verse 34 put it. With the new covenant, the laws will be within people”s hearts, hence doing justice and righteousness will be their passion.
This does not make sense to the lawyers. To write a new contract by forgetting the past infractions and by allowing the offenders go free with impunity? Forgiveness does not make sense in law. But in a matter of the heart, it makes perfect sense. A father forgives and embraces a son, who wasted half of his fortune recklessly in a binge and on prostitutes. The father, like God, loves the son. Is this a sign of God”s incredible capacity to love or soft-hearted stupidity? In the new covenant, all the laws, all just and right things to do, are the protocols for love and caring. Then, what better way to make such protocols a matter of the heart, than demonstrating such love in an act of forgiveness? Foolish? Perhaps. Again Paul said in the letter to the Romans, "should you be wise in the eyes of God, you must become a fool in the eyes of the world."
When the laws are illuminated under the light of incredible love shown in forgiveness, your passion and knowledge become one. The knowledge of whatever pleases God becomes your desire. A psychiatrist once said to his friend, "I can help you find the source of your guilt. But I can never make you feel you are forgiven. Only God can." Jesus Christ fulfilled the promise of God”s new Covenant. He would finally performed the ultimate act of his divinity by forgiving those who made him suffer. This is why the crucifixion of Christ was the climax of the life of Jesus; the occasion of his glorification. When we can see clearly the cross as the climax of Christ”s life, we will be able to see justice joining love, and our hearts and minds speaking in one voice.