Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
I might have told you before, and shared this with the Lunch and Liturgy participants on Tuesday, that when I look at the Sunday scripture, I look at several translations. As I said last week, all translation is interpretation. When I look at the Old Testament scriptures, I look at the Jewish Publication Society translation alongside the English language versions I use for the New Testament. I do this because I want to see how Jews translate and interpret their own scriptures and compare it to the versions used by Christians.
I find this version interesting not just because of its wording, but because of its rhythm. There’s a lilt to the way it can be read, but Hebrew is that way to someone who speaks the language well, which I don’t. But in the English, I hope you agreed.
There are a few people in this narrative you need to know, the first of course being Jeremiah. Jeremiah prophesied from the thirteenth year of King Josiah until the end of the reign of King Zedekiah. The biblical books of Kings, Jeremiah, and Lamentations are all ascribed to Jeremiah, via the hand of his scribe Baruch the son of Neriah. It was Jeremiah’s lot in life to be known as “the weeping prophet,” it was Baruch’s to record these histories and prophecies, to document the weeping. It is important to know Baruch because without him we would not know Jeremiah.
Then there is Zedekiah, the king of Judah mentioned in this narrative. Jeremiah prophesied over the reigns of five kings of Judah, Zedekiah being the last because, well, we read that prophecy today. A prophecy which came to be. As Zedekiah’s reign ended, not only did the prophesied destruction occur, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed as Jerusalem was taken.
In short, Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah because every time Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to prophesy, praying he would prophesy deliverance, Jeremiah would say, “Well Zed, The Lord is going to deliver you and all Jerusalem to the King of Babylon and not you’re not going to escape. In fact, you’re going to be his prisoner until the Lord decides to remember you. Fight all you want; it won’t matter.”
Jeremiah was under arrest in the court of the guard. He could wander as he wanted on their grounds and the public areas of the guardhouse, but he was not free. He was constantly being watched. He would be allowed visitors, certainly Baruch came to bring food and wine and hear and take Jeremiah’s prophecies, but he was in a fancy jail. Prophecy the reason for his confinement.
So, how’s that for a beginning. The Weeping Prophet is in jail for giving the king the Word of HaShem, the Word of the Lord. He’s wasting away. He knows that the city will fall sooner or later. He knows one day, one day soon or years away, the guard will leave only to fight the last valiant, futile battle to save Jerusalem, save Judah, and save Zedekiah; and he has a vision from the Lord. Hanamel, the son of Jeremiah’s Uncle Shallum will come to offer to sell the family field in Anathoth.
Hanamel will come to Jeremiah because he has the primary right to redeem the purchase of this land. At the time in Israel and Judah, the tribal lands had to be kept within the families, you couldn’t just put land on the market for sale. Then not only did the land have to stay in the family, there was a hierarchy of who the land had to be offered. In this case, Jeremiah had the first right of refusal.
Sure enough, Hanamel comes to Jeremiah and asks him to purchase the plot. Realizing this is the way of HaShem, Jeremiah agrees. He weighs out the seventeen shekels of silver and the deeds are prepared. One deed is prepared as a public record, the other to be sealed and put into an earthen pot, a jar of clay. This is the safety deposit box of the day. This cool dry storage will ensure the safety of the document. Baruch takes the silver and the documents to the Elders at the city gate, because Jeremiah can’t go, he’s in jail. These Elders are the official witnesses of all major transactions.
Together they make the deal.
The deal though is not complete until Jeremiah makes an important prophecy. Baruch delivers the word of the Lord from Jeremiah saying, “For thus saith HaShem of hosts, the G-d of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land.”
Jeremiah is in prison. The city will be sacked. The temple will be destroyed. The king will be taken to Babylon. Everybody worth anything will be taken too. Judah and Israel will be left to the aged and the infirm. Jeremiah will be taken to Egypt, but before all of this happens and before all of this ends, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Judah has a future. People will return. The nation will rise again. Things will be better.
How do we know this? Jeremiah prophesies “houses, fields, and vineyards will be bought in this land again.” The people will return. There will be life. Families will return and thrive. There will be crops and there will be vines. There will be bread and there will be wine. The people will return and there will be a need for records in earthen jars, so they must be kept.
In the midst of siege, battle, prison, prophesy, fear, despair, and a king who will be the last of the Kings of Judah, there is hope. There is hope because the weeping prophet says there is. Jeremiah proclaims a future in the land for the people. Thus saith HaShem of hosts.
Because there is hope, Paul tells us through Timothy, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Promises made in the waters of our baptism.
We aren’t called to be trapped by harmful desires. Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are the marks of life well lived. What we consider wealth is uncertain, so Paul warns the rich not to be haughty, not to flaunt their wealth. Paul instead bids we become “rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share.” So that for the coming age, an age that may not be unlike Jeremiah’s, we will have a firm foundation so that we may take hold of the life that is truly life.
What is life that is truly life? I like this story from Luke’s gospel, not only for its wonderful lesson about “life that is truly life,” but for its implicit irony. You see, Luke’s gospel was written sometime between 75-85 AD. So when Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus and the rich man cries out to Father Abraham…
“Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The irony of this is that by the time of the recording and telling of this tale, Jesus has died and risen. I like that, not the community patting itself on the back which is haughty, but the humor of Father Abraham saying “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” after Jesus has been risen from the dead.
The main lesson though, the flashy life of the rich man is nothing in the realm of true life. For all of the abuse the world laid at the feet of Lazarus, his life was true and he receives his reward.
The hope that comes from this story is that there is hope. There is repentance. Our Lord does not turn his back on those he loves and the Lord loves us all. Yes, there are consequences for our actions. Zedekiah found that. Jerusalem found that. The entire nation found that. The rich man in the parable finds that there may be no hope for his brothers. I refuse to believe there is no hope, repentance may yet come, but if they continue as their brother did there is not.
Paul was a Pharisee and a citizen of Rome was one of those rich men. He met the man who died and rose to live again. He found the difference between the good life he led and the true life he could have, and he took it.
What does “true life” mean to us? As this part of the body of Christ what do we need to do to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness? I thank God for what we do. Meals on Wheels, the Food Banks, the Ministerial Alliance, Positive Pathways, Denominational Support, because those are good missions, that’s good outreach.
I thank God for what we do in Christian Education, teaching and learning and growing in God is important. Good examples like Jeremiah, Baruch and Timothy and bad examples like Zedekiah show us where God delights and where God does not.
But there is more. There is so much more. The Lord does not want us to be anxious. Anxiety doesn’t even sniff at that list of qualities that defines true life, things like righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. So let us pray. Let us seek. Let us plan. Let us go forward. Above all let us hope because that is true life where HaShem finds delight.