“Deal, or no deal?”
For four television seasons, comedian and television host Howie Mandel asked that question countless times to contestants on the game show with the same name, Deal or no Deal. It didn’t take talent to be a contestant on Deal or No Deal. It only took guts — or maybe foolishness — to keep playing through the game. Contestants selected a suitcase with an amount of money that could be anywhere from one penny to $1 million. Then they opened the other suitcases on stage to determine the amounts that were not in their case and to narrow down the possible amounts that could be in their case. Every so often, the “banker” made a money offer to the contestant. Sometimes those offers even came with only one case left on stage besides the contestant’s case. What would you do if two possible amounts were left — let’s say $100.00 and $500,000.00 — and the banker offered you something in between — let’s say $250,000.00? Would you take the deal, or would you say no, and open one more case that would either give you half a million dollars or leave you with a hundred bucks? Deal, or no deal?
The first lesson for today’s Mass talks about two possible “deals” or arrangements between God and his Old Testament people living in ancient Judah. The word that is used to describe these two possible deals is “covenant.” But unlike the game show Deal or No Deal, we can see in advance which of the two covenants is the better deal. In fact, God explicitly says that his new covenant is the best deal.
So if the “old deal” — the old covenant — puts us in such a bind (because we’ve put ourselves there), what does God’s “new deal” — the new covenant — have to say to us? “‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.'”
Wickedness forgiven. Sin forgotten. Iniquity against God pardoned for the sake of His Son. Failure to reach the holy standards God requires no longer remembered, because God remembers instead His Son’s sacrifice on our behalf on the cross. No strings attached. No fine print at the bottom of the page. A one-sided deal, a unilateral covenant signed, sealed, and secured in the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ. And that signed covenant is brought to us through faith in the precious blood of Jesus.
Deal, or no deal? How can the no-strings-attached grace of God in this “deal” be anything but the greatest gift and richest treasure we could ever receive? Perhaps the word “deal” is too casual to describe this great gift of God. Despite our professional efforts at sin and rebellion, despite our amateur claims to be self-sufficient without God, God came forward with the divine rescue plan of His new covenant. In fact, God not only came forward, but He came down to our world in the person of Jesus Christ. He came with the righteousness that covers our sinful hearts. He came with the sacrifice that atones for our sin. He came with the resurrection victory that guarantees our resurrection from the dead and victory over sin. He comes in His Word to absolve us, at the font to cleanse us, and at the altar to feed us.
Each week we come one step closer to the cross. Each week we see the new covenant in action — God’s unconditional grace in Jesus. He feeds His disciples with His Supper of forgiveness, even though they will soon ditch out on Him. He allows Himself to be arrested even though He sweats anxious drops of blood beforehand. He faces the fabricated court of the Jews who convict Him for claiming to be Who He actually is. He finds no sympathy from Pilate’s court even though the governor clearly knows he had an innocent man on his hands. He is nailed like a criminal to the cross where He endures the punishment for our crimes against God. We watch and listen and are left with nothing but hearts filled with gracious gratitude and lives filled with humble praise.