In our first reading, Jeremiah speaks of God writing his law on our hearts. It is the law of love itself. You shall love the Lord your God … and your neighbour as yourself. What does that image mean, to write on the heart? It isn’t as though our hearts have known nothing of God’s law. We are each of us made in the image and likeness of God. We were given reason. We were made for love. That’s what makes it possible for us to develop in adult life an informed conscience, and to follow it. Mind and heart can so inform each other as to point us to the truth.
But God’s image was obscured by sin. Conscience was weakened and distorted. The writing had to be restored and written into the very structure of our desiring by the cross of Christ.
By baptism that writing has already made its mark in us. And the time will come when God’s law is second nature, when our hearts will no longer be fickle, deceitful, grudging. We will no longer be selfish. We shall follow God’s law – not because we have to, but because we really want to, because we shall see his will for us as the nothing other than the expression of our true good and of God’s love for us.
To complete the process, though, now requires a battle with our petty selfishness in what is a form of death. That is why Jesus speaks of losing our life in order to find life. It is a form of death, because, as the Letter to the Hebrews suggests in the second reading, after the learning of hard truths about ourselves, we must sacrifice wrongful pleasures, habitual injustices, false gods. And it hurts to surrender those ways of living. It hurts both when we first start to serve others and when we seek to deepen that service. But that surrender and service is not a lowering of ourselves. As the voice of God makes clear, it is glory.
It is also the most powerful witness. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross, which he foretells at the end of the Gospel, drew the whole of creation to Him, so our own laying down of our selfishness and falsity can be the example that helps our brothers and sisters to see the glory that inspires it.
Fr Chris Denham