Reflecting on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 2
Old Testament: Jeremiah 19:1-15
Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:6-16
Psalter: Psalm 101
Old Testament: 2 Kings 18:9-18
Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:6-16
As you heard the prayer of Isaac and Rebekah, O God, and guided them in the way of your love, so listen now to those who call upon you. Move us to praise your gracious will, for in Christ Jesus you have saved us from the deeds of death and opened for us the hidden ways of your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then you shall break the jug in the sight of those who go with you and shall say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. In Topheth they shall bury until there is no more room to bury (Jeremiah 19:10-11).
What do you do with texts like this, where God’s heart is so broken that God rhetorically lashes out. How do you encounter the Lord who is so caught in God’s own pain over the abandonment of the people of God, how does the prophet react? This is rhetorical overkill and it is challenging to see the God of love present in the midst of cannibalism, horror, disaster, and slaughter. Is God so mad that, to use the language of Jeremiah in this section God is willing to pay back the sacrifices of some sons and daughters with filling Topheth with corpses that lie unburied for the animals to eat? Is this God we find in Jeremiah really what the ancient heretic Marcion would have called the evil demiurge, or is there perhaps something else we need to consider? For myself I believe there is.
In the time of Jeremiah life in Jerusalem has become ordered in such a way, a way that was so counter to the desire of shalom that the city was named for (Jeru-shalom- city of peace) that it is now a place where the Lord feels an outcast. Whether the idolatry was as drastic as the prophet announces is difficult to know, but life was no longer oriented around the Lord-and for the people of God when God’s power of life is absent death comes quickly (to paraphrase Brueggeman in his commentary on Jeremiah). Perhaps this rhetorical overkill is something like the effect of commercials turning up the volume to attempt to get a viewer or listener lulled into complacency to sit up and take notice. I am sure that for many in Jerusalem the thought of Babylon coming, laying siege to the city and taking the people into exile could never happen there. They are Jerusalem, they have a Davidic king, they have the temple, God turned away the Assyrians before: siege, plunder, exile, cannibalism-it can’t happen here.
Yet, one thing that is noticeable is that it never says the prophet delivers this over the top rhetoric, rather he tones it down “all the disaster that I have pronounced” is substituted for 13 verses of horror, and the court of the Lord’s house substitutes for Topheth, but the prophet in a very real way serves as a shock absorber for the message. Either the prophet endures the rhetoric of wrath on behalf of the people or the prophet spares us, the readers from reading the horror once again.
Jeremiah, like all the prophets do not attempt to be systematic theologians, rather they are more like poets and their language while powerful and evocative should not be read as legal treatises on the nature of God. Jeremiah allows us to see into the pain of God, and to endure with the wounded God the loss of a people and God’s struggle with how to deal with the abandonment by God’s people. If you want to find a God of wrath, the material is certainly there in scripture-but as a Lutheran I come from the perspective of a God who is love and so I have to wrestle with the rhetoric of Jeremiah and the woundedness of God. There may not always be easy answers, but like the Psalms this is more the poetic language of emotion rather than the language of logic.
PRAYER: Creator God, you call us to love and serve you with body, mind, and spirit through loving your creation and our sisters and brothers. Open our hearts in compassion and receive these petitions on behalf of the needs of the church and the world. Holy One, hear our prayers and make us faithful stewards of the fragile bounty of this earth so that we may be entrusted with the riches of heaven. Amen.
Check out more of Neil White’s work, here.