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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (22.07.18)
The Issue of Balance
We start, and often conclude, our earthly life with problems of physical balance. Between these two poles, we struggle daily with discerning our moral balance.
Discerning and holding to a moral balance in the unending daily skirmishes between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, effectively God and the Devil, is both difficult and demanding. Relatively speaking, allowing for an appropriate age/health range and with devoted application and training, we could probably climb Everest more easily! Everest remains unchanging, to the human eye. It is the unpredictable and sudden climatic changes enwrapping Everest that most endanger mountaineers.
God is forever and unchanging unlike Everest, which has a limited existence. Challenging God, for a God-prescribed period, is Evil, in the person of Satan. God, in the person of Jesus, God-made-Man, has alerted those seeking him that, like the climatic conditions enwrapping Everest, they will be subject to the unpredictability of Evil’s onslaughts throughout their faith-pilgrimage.
The impact of the utterances of God’s prophets can be compared to the changes in weather conditions that wrap themselves around Everest. Their purpose was to stop people in their ‘off-piste’ tracks by calling them back to God’s Covenantal pathway. Jeremiah, a 7th century BC prophet of God, authored The Book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Bible, often referred to by Christians as The Old Testament. The name Jeremiah means: ‘May the Lord be exalted’.
The announcement in church, “A Reading from the Prophet Jeremiah” may not spark the imagination and interest of many in Sunday congregations. But then not all in our assemblies are familiar with the books of The Old Testament. That so many lack an adequate Biblical background probably means that the First Reading (23:1-6) from Jeremiah will only be heard, at best, superficially on this 16th Sunday. So, what follows here are thoughts that, hopefully, will give a background to this Reading enabling contemporary congregations to draw important parallels with our world of the 21st. century. Such parallels may help worshippers come to realise why God is calling them to be his prophets here and now!
Jeremiah is known as the ‘weeping prophet’ because, in his lifetime, he witnessed the destruction of the City of Jerusalem, the Jewish Holy Temple and suffered the deportation and enslavement of his people, including himself. Before all this upheaval erupted, God had mandated Jeremiah to warn the corrupted leaders of God’s people, Israel, to reform their behaviour.
But corruption had established itself within those power-hungry leaders and corruption, like all evil when left unchecked, grows exponentially. The personal choices we freely make, that diminish God’s grace within us, enable Evil to blindside us and the devil is not one to let any opportunity pass.
Jeremiah, who appears to have had a sensitive nature, was distressed both by his people’s disobedience and their apostasy. Though mild and timid by nature and inclined to melancholy, he was also devoutly religious and uncommonly bold and courageous in declaring God’s message. He maintained his courage when his proclamations were rejected by his people who then subjected him to hatred and physical persecution. Nevertheless, Jeremiah continued his denunciations and rebukes even of the upper echelons of his people. He was distressed by the evil he foresaw as well as that which he endured.
King Josiah (648-609 BC), a religious and upright leader, ruled Judah when Jeremiah began his prophetical ministry. Josiah’s attempts to bring about reforms were insufficient and ineffective. After Josiah’s death, wickedness had a resurgence and God’s Covenant was further ignored. Consequently, as Jeremiah had foreseen, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar captured and destroyed Jerusalem and The Temple. He deported the Israelites, including Jeremiah, into slavery. In his captivity, Jeremiah also foresaw how Babylon would finally fall and how a kingdom greater than all would arise in which there would be righteousness and peace.
So, despite experiencing the death agony of his people and the destruction of both his city and The Temple, Jeremiah remained a man of faith-based hope. He saw beyond the near future to a day when grace would manifest itself and God’s eternal purpose would be enacted. The Book of Jeremiah emphasizes the future glory of God’s kingdom which would endure.
Jeremiah made two significant contributions to the overall proclamation of God’s Truth, as understood in his day. Both remain relevant today. Firstly, that true religion is of the spiritual not the physical or political order and therefore it can never be national; and secondly, that true religion is essentially based within each single individual who bears personal responsibility for it (31:29-30). For religion to be a spiritual condition of each particular individual, the doctrine of personal responsibility is a logical necessity. These two teachings constituted a great step forward at the time.
There is a saying that ‘History repeats itself, but increases the cost each time’. Though the world of the 7th. Century BC was substantially smaller than that of our 21st. century AD, human beings then were nevertheless engaged in a struggle, remarkably similar to our own namely, to find a spiritual, moral, ethical and religious balance on their personal life-pilgrimage.
People, today too, are being called constantly by both good and evil, God and Satan. We are aware of how the sea is constantly pulled by the moon and the sun causing either high and low tides. The difference is that we are gifted with free will. We are free to choose to allow either God or Satan to influence and affect us. This tug-of-war is played out, daily, in the way we orientate our conscience and our will throughout the course of our life here on earth.
Perhaps the foregoing Jeremiah ‘background’ may prompt some to question whether they could do more than just lament the current state of the world? Prayer and fasting, by way of intercession, is within everyone’s reach. ‘Ramadan’ is now recognised, catered and prepared for throughout the world. Recognition and allowance for The Muslim holy month of fasting is made by non-Muslims too, for example, by those who employ Muslims. For non-Muslims, too, fasting can be a way of life but is it done to intercede before God or to lose weight? Others fast because of economic necessity but even involuntary fasting can be offered as a prayer of intercession as opposed to it being a cause of anger.
Jeremiah saw beyond the appalling suffering, that occupied so much of his life, to a time when grace would be manifested in human behaviour. He looked forward to the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ. We, by contrast, live in the ‘Anno Domini’ era. The era that has knowledge of the Messiah. One quick question - do you use the abbreviations ‘BC’ and ‘AD’ or have you, perhaps unthinkingly, adopted the ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ forms because “everyone else has”? ‘BC’ and ‘AD’ remind believers that we are living in the final epoch of this world in a way that ‘BCE’ (before the common era) and ‘CE’ (common era) do not. We surely need such reminders, mesmerised as we are by our technological prowess.
We have given up counting the number of wars raging over our planet. Some are fought with manufactured weapons that create all too visible casualties. Other ‘wars’ are fought with corruption, power-lust, chemicals, drugs, the internet and social media. Often the victims are faceless. Is our response to such violence to turn to another less disturbing and challenging TV channel. We could emulate Jeremiah. We too, if we choose, can look to the future. We are blessed to able to look through the eyes of The Prophet who brought us God’s final prophecy, completing all others, in the person of Himself – He is Jesus the Christ?
The future for our fragmented and self-destructing world is a disturbing sight to behold unless we look through the eyes of Christ. In order to do this, we have to choose to become one with Him, in all aspects of his earthly life, who longs to be united with us.