Saturday of Week 17 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24

Today we have a continuation of yesterday’s reading about the reaction to Jeremiah’s prophecy about the future fate of the Temple and Jerusalem.

We saw yesterday how Jeremiah had been arrested by the religious leaders after he had warned that the Temple and Jerusalem would be reduced to ruins if the people did not change their ways. His words sounded sacrilegious to his hearers and now judgement is being passed on him.

In a verse that comes between the two passages but not in either reading, we are told that the leaders of Judah were told of the situation and held a formal trial at the New Gate of the Temple. The priests and prophets told the leaders and the people gathered round that Jeremiah deserved to die because of what he had said against the Temple and the holy city. His accusers pass sentence on him even before Jeremiah has had a chance to defend himself.

When Jeremiah does get the opportunity to speak, he says that everything he told them came directly from the Lord. They were not his own thoughts. Once again he tells that they have only to change their ways and submit themselves to God’s law and the threatened disaster will not take place. Jeremiah is in their hands and he tells them they can do what they like with him. But, if they execute him, they will have innocent blood on their hands, “since the Lord truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing”.

This statement produces a division between the court officials and the people over the religious leaders, the priests and the prophets. The former say that Jeremiah does not deserve to die because what he has said he has spoken in God’s name.

What happens next in the passage is not contained in our reading (27:17-23). First, some of the elders remind the people that the prophet Micah had made prophecies very similar to those of Jeremiah but he was not condemned to death. He had said that Zion would “become a ploughed field, Jerusalem a heap of ruins”. But then we are told of another prophet by the name of Uriah, who was preaching the same message as Jeremiah. When the king wanted to eliminate him, he fled into Egypt but he was pursued, brought back, executed and dumped in a common grave

However, Jeremiah was rescued from certain death by some high-powered intervention. Ahikam, son of Shaphan, was a highly-placed official, a scribe in the court of King Josiah and always well-disposed to Jeremiah. He was also the father of Gedaliah, who would become governor of Jerusalem after its destruction in 586 BC and would also befriend Jeremiah.

Here we have an example of how the prophet’s integrity is rewarded, although it might always turn out like this. Whatever the consequences, Jeremiah had to speak out what he believed was the Lord’s message. Quite unknown to him, circumstances worked in his favour and preserved his life.

This is an example of one’s life being in the hands of potter. Jeremiah would die when his time had come and not before. Neither he nor anyone else could change that. Clearly, Yahweh had some more work for him to do.

For us it is the same. In our lives, too, God’s Providence can work in strange ways and use very unexpected instruments.

Let us today count our blessings and recall how many times God’s love has been experienced through surprising and unexpected interventions.


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