Tuesday of week 18 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22]

The reading is in three parts: a brief introduction (vv. 1-2); the sufferings of Judah are deserved (12-15); better times are on the way (18-22).

After so many dire predictions of terrible things going to happen, a note of hope creeps into Jeremiah’s words with the promise of recovery (albeit not too soon) of the kingdoms.

Today’s reading comes from the beginning of what is often known as Jeremiah’s “Book of Consolation”. It speaks of the ultimate restoration of both Israel (the Northern Kingdom, centred on Samaria) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom, centred on Jerusalem). The passage seems to date from the year 587 BC, just one year before Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and its people carried off into exile to Babylon.

The Jerusalem Bible says the greater part of the Book (30:1-31:22) was written between the reform of 622 BC and the death of King Josiah in 609 BC. It is written almost entirely in poetry. The decline of Assyria had allowed King Josiah to undertake the re-conquest of Samaria and Galilee. This gave rise to the hope that the exiles of 721 BC might return to a restored kingdom of David. The section is the longest sustained passage in Jeremiah concerned with the future hope of the people of God.

Yahweh still loves the Israel of the Northern Kingdom; he will bring the exiles back to their homes; religious unity will be restored with Zion as its centre. Later this promise of return was extended to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, conquered and exiled in its turn. Subsequent oracles associate Judah with Israel, thus giving the ‘Book of Consolation’ its final, messianic scope: Israel and Judah will unite to serve ‘Yahweh their God and David their king’. This gathering of scattered Israel becomes a major theme of the exilic and post-exilic prophets. It is a dream which inspires Jews to this day.

The readings for today, tomorrow and Thursday, all taken from chapters 30 and 31, express this hope for a better future.

The passage begins by the prophet being told by God to write down the message so that future generations may know the predictions of better times to come.

The opening words of the Lord, in the reading, however, begin on a negative note. Jeremiah once again reminds the people of Judah that their many sufferings were the consequences of their own actions. “Your wound is incurable, your injustice past healing… no medicine to make you well again…” “All your lovers have forgotten you”, namely, those nations, especially Egypt, on which Judah depended for support against the Babylonians.

However, they must realise that all of this suffering was deserved. “Why bother to complain about your wound?… So great is your guilt, so many your sins, that I have done all this to you.” Assyria and Babylon were merely instruments to teach Judah better ways:

Because of your guilt,
your numerous sins,
I have done this to you.

But new times are coming. The tents and dwellings of Jacob, referring to Judah’s cities and palaces, will be restored. The city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt on its ruins. The Hebrew word for ‘ruins’, tel(l) refers to a mound of ruins resulting from the accumulation of debris of years or centuries on which successive towns were built. (Archaeologists in this part of the world often find a town built on several layers of previous structures.)

Instead of the cries of suffering now heard, “there will come thanksgiving and shouts of joy, the laughter of happy people”. The population will increase and things will be as they were in the good days of the past.

They will be ruled by one of their own and not by a governor appointed by the conquering power, Assyria or Babylon. And this ruler, chosen from among God’s own people, will have free access to the Lord’s presence. The Pentateuch tells us that unauthorised approaches into God’s presence were punishable by death. This ruler will be one fully acknowledged by Yahweh. While not immediately intended here, Jesus Christ will be the one who will ultimately fulfil this promise in a very special way.

And the passage ends with the great covenant statement: “You shall be my people and I will be your God.” That was always true but both the people of Israel and of Judah had violated their side of the pact by their immorality and idolatry.

The days of restoration will not only mean a putting back of the old structures but a renewing of the close bond between God and his people.

The passage is full of hope, the hope that knows that, no matter how bad things get, truth, goodness and justice will prevail in the long run. Our own lives must always be based on such a hope.

But, of course, as Jeremiah implies, the realisation of our hopes also depends on our active cooperation with doing what God wants. Many of our problems are the results of our failure to live in harmony with the Gospel vision of life.

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