Again and again and again – Wednesday, 18th week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 31:1-7
We continue with the study of the ‘Book of Consolation’ found in chapters 30 and 31 of the prophet Jeremiah. ‘The book is so called because God’s mercy and faithfulness (31:3) is presented with God’s great ability to comfort and to open the hearts of the afflicted’ ( Pope Francis).
The text of today is an exilic text. After years of warnings from Jeremiah and several other prophets, disaster finally befalls Judah: the city of Jerusalem is sacked, the temple destroyed, the king and his court deported or dead. The deportees who survived the journey to Babylonia were faced with a strange new life in a foreign country, their movements and actions were subject to a foreign power, whose orders were conveyed through authorities speaking a foreign language.
The exile was a devastating experience for the people of Israel. Their faith had wavered because they found themselves in a strange land; without the Temple, without worship and after seeing their homeland destroyed, it was difficult continue to believe in the goodness of the Lord.
For the Jews, the loss of the two pillars of Judaism, the temple and their land was tantamount to a loss of national identity. They were de facto ‘persona non grata’ The Lord, who promised David a continuous kingship in his lineage, had now deserted them. With this, all hope for Israel seemed dead. Jeremiah, who was the prophet of the doom until now, comes with a message from God. He addresses the Israelites who have been deported to Babylon with the ‘promise of the new covenant’. He foretells their return to the homeland. This return is a sign of the infinite love of God, the Father who never abandons his children, but who takes care of them and saves them.
The text opens with God reiterating what he said in 30:22; ‘They shall be HIS people and he shall be THEIR God. But he will not just be God of some families who were faithful and who survived the exile but God to all of Israel. (31:2) Much consolation is found for the sinner in these words. God’s mercy (hessed) or as the text of today puts it, HIS faithfulness, does not distinguish between saint and sinner. His love is for all who wish to receive it.
Perhaps what is hard to wrap ones head around is the ‘shameless love’ of God for a ‘shameless people’ who refused to heed his call to repentance. It is God who ‘loves Israel ( and us) with an everlasting love.’ Look into your past, look right to the garden of Eden and you will see that it was HE who loved us first with an everlasting love. Because he chose to love us from the beginning (31:3) he cannot turn his back on us even though that is what he would be right in doing. It is for this reason God proclaims, “ I continue my faithfulness to you.”
It is interesting to note that God proclaims that he has loved us with an everlasting love. God did not have pity on Israel and therefore chose to love them. He did not ‘think about them’ and therefore chose to love them; he loved them always and that is why he can proclaim his everlasting love.
As if to hammer in a point, Jeremiah in verse 4 and 5 uses the word ‘again’ and does this thrice. The word again highlights that this is not a new venture that God sets out to do for his people but it is something that he is committed to. Again he will build them up as he did when he brought them into the promised land. Again he will encourage them to take the tambourin and go forth dancing and making merry like they used to. Again he will bless their vineyard as they plant vines on the mountains of Samaria and they shall enjoy its fruit.
What does this tell us? God is no kill joy nor does he make us squirm when he could jolly well do so for our sins. He is not a despot but desperately wants us back so that he can love us.