Friday of Week 26 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Baruch 1:15-22

The Book of Baruch is one of the deutero-canonical (or ‘apochryphal’) books not found in the Hebrew or Protestant Bible. The Greek Bible puts it between Jeremiah and Lamentations, but the Vulgate has it immediately after Lamentations, where it is also found in our “Catholic” Bibles.

According to its introduction (see 1:1-14), it was written in Babylon by Baruch after the deportation and sent to Jerusalem to be read at liturgical gatherings. The opening verses of this book ascribe it, or at least its first part, to Baruch, well-known as the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah. It contains five very different compositions, the first and the last in prose, the others in poetic form. The prose sections were certainly composed in Hebrew, though the earliest known form of the book is in Greek.

Today we have the first of two readings from the book. It is the beginning of what is called The Prayer of the Exiles, the exiles being those Jews who were deported to Babylon from Judah and Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC. As the passage seems to belong to a much later date, it may rather reflect the feelings of a later community who saw in their own situation a similarity with those exiles.

The author had begun his book by saying:

These are the words of the book that Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah son of Zedekiah son of Hasadiah son of Hilkiah wrote in Babylon, in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month, at the time when the Chaldeans [Babylonians] took Jerusalem and burned it with fire. (Bar 1:1-2)

The details he gives indicate the year 582 BC, probably in the fifth month, the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem, which was doubtless commemorated among the exiles as it was in Palestine. The passage is a general lament for the situation of the Israelites now living in exile, far from their homeland and from Jerusalem and its Temple, the home of Yahweh.

But there is no complaint against Yahweh for their condition. Their sufferings are due to one reason and one reason only – the people’s long history of not obeying the Lord and going their own way. This began from the days the Lord brought them out of Egypt right up to the present time:

We have disobeyed him and have not heeded the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in the statutes of the Lord that he set before us. From the time when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today, we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, and we have been negligent in not listening to his voice.

The writer compares the goodness and the integrity of God with that of his people. If they have suffered by being sent into exile, it is the result of their own sins and not the doing of the good God.

In our response to this reading we might reflect on how much of our own pain and misfortunes can be traced to our own behaviour, individually or corporately. It is so easy to blame God for our ills and use him as a scapegoat who will not strike back. But the first step in expressing our love of God must begin with a total acknowledgment of our own sinfulness.

Paradoxically it is those who are most aware of their sinfulness who are closest to God. Because an acknowledgment of sin is an awareness of a gap that needs to be closed. Those who deny their sin are the least likely to change and convert. But when we do suffer, the question to ask our God is not Why me, but What now? How are we to turn this experience to a greater love of God and neighbour?

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