Crack(ed) Pot – Thursday,16th week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 2:1-3,7-8,12-13
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Yet, bearing bad news is an integral part of the prophetic task. Chapters 2-6 form part of that ‘bad news,’ a period during the reign of King Josiah but a period before the great liturgical reforms that he set in motion as a consequence of finding the ‘Book of the Law’ while the temple was being restored.
About a hundred years have passed since the northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. After that point of time, the southern kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem came to be called Israel, a name formerly used exclusively for the ten tribes that formed at one time the nation in the north. So in this text God refers to Judah and Jerusalem as representing all of Israel.
The text opens with God placing the charge against his people; a people he has loved and who once showed him great devotion in their youth. In doing so God is referring to Israel as young bride that fell in love with Him when they were brought out of the land of Egypt 800 years ago. But 800 years now seems to be for Israel a long time of fidelity and their flirtatious eyes have now fallen on the other nations. God is miffed that his people who followed him so willingly into the wilderness, a people that chose holiness above all, chose an adulterous relationship with other nations.
Using a compelling genre, that of lawsuit, as also seen in Micah 6, God brings charges against the ancestors of the people and then against the religious leaders and prophets for their idolatry and the lack of leadership to condemn it. He holds back no punches and asks, “what wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me” The end result is that they went after worthless (Hebel=Hebrew) things and became worthless or nothing themselves.
The tricky thing about ‘idolatry’, and I use this in its broadest sense, is that often, when we’re doing it, it doesn’t seem like we’re worshipping a false god. It seems like we’re worshipping a true god. Or it seems like we are pursuing good ends, ordained by our understanding of what a true god is. It think we are pursuing something necessary for our survival, and if we believe that our ‘true god’ desires our survival, then surely the thing we pursue is not idolatrous. Even if it feels empty and dry. Even if it really is draining us of life and soul.
But perhaps the worst indictment is when God charges his priests and prophets who feign ignorance of His laws and His ways. It is the priests who ask, “where is the Lord?” They who should have known his ways and paths, those who ‘handle his law’ do not know him at all. Faith is corrupted when religious leaders who claim to know God are but empty spiritual vessels, simply making noise in his name. Even worse, when those charged with keeping God’s law, lead astray his people, lead them into idolatry in the name of secularism and inclusiveness (as happens today).
God would have none of this and therefore he brings his accusation against his people. God does not want us to simply look displeased at what goes on around us, he wants us to react and act. Verse 12 calls the people to be ‘appalled’, to be s’hocked’ and be ‘utterly desolate’ for the evil that has taken place. Notice that God calls a spade a spade; he calls such work “evil” ( verse 13). For Israel has not only forsaken God who is the living fountain but has chosen rather to create man made cisterns that are cracked and useless.
In the ancient near east, a fountain of living waters was something special. It was a constant supply of good, fresh, life-giving water that came to you! In ancient Israel, water was a lot of work, but a fountain of living waters brought it right to you. Jesus is always the living water who fills us with the gift of eternal life (John 4:14).
In our own days, there are so many, including many who are baptised, who try to replace God, the source of life-giving water, with other things they believe will provide the happiness and contentment they seek. It may be money in all its forms, success, fame, popularity, material goods, sex, etc. Yet all these are in the long run (and often enough in the short run) are no better than leaking cisterns which (to mix the metaphor!) quickly turn to bitter-tasting ashes. That’s why one calls them, ‘cracked pots’