Friday of week 16 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Jer 3:14-17

Today we are given an optimistic vision of Zion in the messianic age.

Jeremiah, in spite of his reputation, is not all gloom and doom. It was, of course, an important role of the prophet to point out the people’s shortcomings and to warn them of the consequences of their lifestyle. But it was also his (one seldom hears of female prophets) role to bring a message of hope and to raise the morale of people who were oppressed or depressed.

Today’s reading is a message of hope for a people whose city has been destroyed and who have been carried away into exile in Babylon. Now the prophet is calling them to come back – not only to their city but also to following the will of their God. He calls them “disloyal” children and reminds them that God alone is their husband and master.

The Hebrew word here for “husband/master” is ba’al, which, of course, is also the name given to the false gods that the Jews of the time had, under the influence of their conquerors, been worshipping. Jeremiah is calling on his people to have only one ba’al or master, namely Yahweh.

Now comes the promise. The people will return to Zion or Jerusalem but in very small numbers, “one from a town, two from a clan”. They are the remnant of Judah who will carry on the covenant promises of the Messiah to come.

They will have shepherds, that is, rulers, who, like David of old, will be “after my own heart”. They will be wise and prudent shepherds, unlike the corrupt and idolatrous rulers who led them to their downfall and exile.

“In those days”, that is, in the age of the Messiah, the remnant that has returned to Jerusalem will grow in numbers, yet no one will ask “Where is the ark of the covenant of the Lord?” It is clear that the ark had been carried away or destroyed with the pillaging of the Temple by the Babylonians but this will not matter.

The Ark of the Covenant, formerly symbolising God’s royal presence will be irrelevant when the Messiah comes. “There will be no thought of it, no memory of it, no regret for it, no making of another.” For the city of Jerusalem itself will become the “Throne of the Lord” to which all the nations will assemble. Formerly, the Lord had been “enthroned between the cherubim” above the Ark.

Moreover, “all nations will be gathered together to honour the name of the Lord in Jerusalem”. And they will no longer “follow the dictates of their own stubborn hearts” when, as in the past, they refused to listen to the Lord and worshipped instead idols made by human hands.

Unlikely as it must have seemed at the time, Jerusalem did indeed become a place where the nations assembled. It became the place where the Messiah, the Christ, sealed the New Covenant in his own blood. It was the place where the people converged from all over the Mediterranean and, on the day of Pentecost, heard the Good News proclaimed in a language they could perfectly understand.

And, from Jerusalem, the message fanned out to the four points of the compass and eventually to every corner of the world. This is the theme of the Acts of the Apostles.

Jeremiah’s hearers never lived to see that day but he was accurate in everything he foretold. We, on the other hand, are the beneficiaries. How are we responding to this tremendous gift of God’s love? To what extent have we heard and assimilated the Message? And what difference does our way of life make to those around us? The Messianic Age continues but it depends on us to make it visible. The realisation of the Messianic Age is the coming of the Reign of God into our world.

There is a lot of work still to be done!

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