Chapter 2 – The People of God

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• The Church is the sacrament of God’s love for the whole world.
• The Church is a pilgrim people called together by God to become
one in Jesus Christ.
• These are four states of life: single, married, consecrated, and ordained.
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(see notes cover Covenant Theology)
Genesis 9:9-13 (Covenant with Noah);
Genesis 12:2 & 17:1 (Covenant with Abraham);
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Prophets announce a new covenant);
Luke 22:14-20 (New Covenant is Jesus Christ);
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (Different kinds of spiritual gifts)
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Faith Vocabulary: consecrated life, laity, ordained ministry
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Caritas Internationalis
Catholics Believe: The pilgrim Church, Election of the Pope
Prayer: Prayer for Vocations
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Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC): 1749-1756, 751-780, 781-786, 871-913

U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA): pp. 116-117
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The Theology of Salvation

(about an hour)

covenant vs contract

HISTORY OF COVENANTS

  1. Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:262:3)
  2. Noah and his family (Genesis 9:8-17)
  3. Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-14; 22:16-18)
  4. Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 19:5-6; 3:4-10; 6:7)
  5. David and the Kingdom of Israel (2 Samuel 7:8-19)
  6. Jesus and the Church (Matthew 26:28; 16:17-19)

“Biblical revelation, in fact, is above all the expression Of a story of love, the Story Of the covenant of God with man; therefore the story
0f the love and union between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage was able to be assumed by God as a symbol of the history of salvation. ” —Pope Benedict XVI (Address to the congress Of the Roman Diocese on “The Family and the Christian Community; 6 June 2005, St. John Lateran, Rome)

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The Covenant Principle: Testimony from Scripture and Tradition

At the Last Supper, Jesus identified Himself as the New Covenant, in words we recall during every celebration of Mass – “This cup is the cup of My blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant” (see Matthew 26:28Mark 14:24Luke 22:20).

In fact, as the great scholar of the Bible and liturgy, Cardinal Jean Danielou, S.J., has noted, “We should not forget the fact that ‘the Covenant’ was one of our Lord’s names in primitive Christianity, following the text of Isaiah: ‘I have made you: Covenant of the peoples’ (Isaiah 42:6)” (see Danielou’s “Sacraments and the History of Salvation”).

The Fathers of the Church – the bishops and Church leaders in the first generations after the Apostles – understood biblical history as proceeding by means of a series of covenants made by God with His chosen people, a series that climaxes in the New Covenant of Jesus.

St. Irenaeus, who was the bishop of Lyon in late second-century France, said that to understand “the divine program and economy for the salvation of humanity” we have to understand God’s “several covenants with humanity” and also “the special character of each covenant.” (Against the Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10, no. 3).

This ancient understanding of biblical salvation history is reflected in what we today pray as Eucharistic Prayer IV:

Father….You formed man in your own likeness
and set him over the whole world…
Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship
you did not abandon him to the power of death. . .
Again and again you offered a covenant to man and…
in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior.

That’s about as succinct a summary as you’ll find of what the Bible’s all about.

As Father Yves Congar, O.P. writes in his monumental Tradition and Traditions, for the Apostles, Scripture is all about “the vital covenant relationship that God wants to establish with men.” He added: “The content and meaning of Scripture was God’s covenant plan, finally realized in Jesus Christ…and in the Church.”

Finally, we can cite The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which calls God, “the God of the Covenant” (no. 401) and describes him as the God who “comes to meet man by His covenants” (no. 309).

God’s covenant love is revealed in the very creation of the world (no. 288), the Catechismsays, and each one of us is “called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead” (no. 357).

That personal covenant is offered to us in the sacraments of the Church. As the Second Vatican Council says: “The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ’s insistent love” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, scroll down to no. 10).

What is a Covenant?

The Difference Between Covenants and Contracts

But what’s a covenant?

Let’s start with the word. Covenant comes from the Latin word, convenire (“to come together” or “to agree”).

Today, we use the word “covenant” almost interchangeably with the word “contract.”

But that’s very misleading when we try to compare our notion of contract with the biblical notions of “covenant” expressed by the Hebrew word berith and the Greek word diatheke.

The difference between covenant and contract in the Old Testament and throughout the Bible is profound. It’s so profound that we could almost say that it’s the difference between prostitution (contract) and marriage (covenant). Or between owning a slave (contract) and having a son (covenant.)

There are two big differences between our notion of contract and the biblical notion of covenant.

First, contracts involve promises, covenants involve oaths.

When you enter into a contract, say, to buy a house, you make a promise to the seller, along the lines of: “I give you my word that I will pay you this amount of money for your house.” The seller , in turn, makes a promise: “I give you my word that if you pay me the sum we have agreed upon, I will turn over to you the deed to my house.”

The “word” you each pledge to the other is your name. And you each sign your name on the contract as a “sign” that you’ll uphold your end of the bargain or keep your promise.

Covenants are much different. In a covenant, you elevate and upgrade your promise. Not only do you give your word, you also swear an oath, invoke a higher authority – you call God in as your witness.

Think of the oath we’re most familiar with, the oath you swear before taking the witness stand in a courtroom: “I promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

You’ve promised, given your word to tell the truth. You’ve also asked God to help you keep your promise. It’s not only you and the judge now. It’s you, the judge and God. Now, if you lie under oath, you’re not only liable to go to jail, you’re liable to be punished by God. The flip side of asking for God’s help in an oath is surrendering yourself to God’s judgment. You say, in effect, “I’ll be damned if I don’t tell the truth.”

In the old days, we used to have politicians swear on the Bible and the Bible would be opened to the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, where the blessings and the curses are recorded. We were asking them to swear to uphold the constitution or suffer the curses recorded in those pages.

Even in our highly secularized society, we retain elements of this older understanding of oaths. We make doctors, police officers, military personnel and public officials swear oaths. Why? Because we depend on them; we literally put our lives in their hands. We want them to swear to God that they’ll do their jobs. We can’t just take their word for it, we want them to know that they’ll have to answer to a higher authority.

Incidentally, did you know that the word “oath” translates the Latin word sacramentum,where we get our word “sacrament”? In a future course, we’ll look at sacraments as oaths. But for now, just keep in mind, as we mentioned earlier, that the notion of covenant and oaths is crucial to understanding the sacraments and our relationship with God.

The second big difference between contracts and covenants is this: contracts exchange property, covenants exchange persons.

Contracts involve you promising to pay a certain sum of money and the person you’re contracting with to deliver you a certain product or service.

Covenants are much different. When people enter into a covenant, they say: “I am yours and you are mine.” In a contract, you exchange something you have – a skill, a piece of property, money. In a covenant you exchange your very being, you give your very self to another person.

Marriage is a covenant. The man swears an oath to the woman, “I’m yours forever.” The woman swears an oath to the man, “I’m yours forever.”

The Meaning of Covenant in the Bible

Now we’re ready to see how covenants function in the Bible.

We have examples of covenant-making throughout the ancient world. And there are some similarities between the kinds of covenants that, for instance, the ancient Hittites and others made and the covenants we find in the Bible.

You’ll find for instance, that ancient covenants take a certain form: There’s a kind of preamble that introduces the covenant, followed by a historical review of the relationship between the two parties; then a series of stipulations that spell out the obligations of the parties, along with a list of blessings and curses for upholding or breaking the covenant. Usually, the covenant is “ratified” in a solemn ceremony that involves a reading of the covenant document and eating and drinking. (If you want a very detailed analysis, try “The Meaning of Covenant” in the SalvationHistory.com Scripture Library.)

We want to focus here, not so much on how covenants are made, but on what God is doing in making the covenants we find in the Bible.

What’s God up to in making these covenants? He is forging sacred kinship bonds. He is saying to His people, “I will be their God and they shall be My people…I will be a Father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to Me” (see 2 Corinthians 6:16).

By His covenants, God is taking the “creatures” He made and raising them to the status of divine offspring, divine children. By His covenants, the Creator is fathering a family. The human race is being transformed from something physical and natural into something spiritual and supernatural. Humans are being changed from merely a species sharing common traits and characteristics into a divine brotherhood and sisterhood, a family of God.

The story line and the drama of the Bible all plays out against this backdrop of divine family-making.

The Bible begins with God’s covenant with Adam and Eve (although the word covenantisn’t used, as we’ll see next lesson). By the final pages of the Bible, we see that the New Covenant He made in Jesus has embraced the entire world.

Remember all those details of the Bible that seemed so hard to figure out – the laws and commandments, the ritual rules; the oaths that God swears to His people and His people swear to Him; the historical episodes of sin and betrayal and repentance and forgiveness; the punishments and deliverance; the psalms and wisdom teachings, the prophecies of a new and final covenant redemption?

They all make sense when you understand them as part of God’s divine plan to make all men and women into His sons and daughters through the covenants, which are all summed up in the New Covenant, where God sends us “a Spirit of adoption, through which we can cry, Abba, ‘Father!'” (see Romans 8:15Galatians 4:5Ephesians 1:5).

The Easter Vigil readings, a walk through the covenants:

The readings for the Easter Vigil are as follows:

1. Genesis 1:1-2:2
Response: Psalm 104:1-2,5-6,10-14,24,35
2. Genesis 22:1-18
Response: Psalm 16:5,8, 9-11
3. Exodus 14:15 -15:1
Response: Exodus 15:1-6,17-18
4. Isaiah 54:5-14
Response: Psalm 30:2-6,11-13
5. Isaiah 55:1-11
Response: Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
6. Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4
Response: Psalm 19:8-10,17
7. Ezekiel 36:16-17, 18-28
Response: Psalm 42:3,5; 43:3- 4
8. Romans 6:3-11
Response: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
9. Matthew 28:1-10 (Year A) or Mark 16:1-7 (Year B) or Luke 24:1-12 (Year C)

From The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology
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