Book of Jeremiah

“Do me justice, O Lord!

For I have walked in integrity,

And in the Lord I trust without wavering.

Search me, O Lord, and try me;

test my soul and my heart.

Gather not my soul with sinners,

Nor with men of blood my life.

On their hands are crimes,

And their right hands are full of bribes.

But I walk in integrity:

Redeem me, and have pity on me.

My foot stands on level ground;

In the assemblies I will bless the Lord. – Psalm 26

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Franciene McDonald. When I introduce myself or hear my name spoken, I often wonder who is that woman? For almost 40 years my husband has called me “sweetie” and for almost that long my daughter has called me “mom”, so the woman “Franciene” seems like a stranger to me.

Does the meaning of a person’s name designate anything about that person? My own name means “free one” and is French in origin. My dad’s baptismal name was Francesco, and he was of Sicilian descent. He used the American name “Frank” throughout his life. I am not quite sure where Franciene fits in here. Maybe mom and dad just liked the sound of it.

In the Hebrew language all names had a significance. Individuals were given a name which was expressive of some characteristic or hope for the newborn child. These personal names were solemnly and carefully chosen. For example, Jacob, second son of Isaac means “supplanter”. the Bible tells us that Jacob was holding onto his twin brother Esau’s heel as they were being born, and later Jacob stole his brother Esau’s inheritance by pretending to be him. The name Jeremiah means “Yahweh has uplifted”. With such a glorious name, could God have chosen any other destiny for Jeremiah?

When the city of Jerusalem was first conquered by the Babylonians in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar deposed the reigning king Jehoiachin and placed on David’s throne the king’s uncle, Mattaniah. The Babylonian tyrant then renamed Mattaniah. By giving the new king a new name, Nebuchadnezzar was making clear to whom the king owed allegiance. Mattaniah was renamed Zedikiah, a name which means “justice of Yahweh”.

The Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, exiled its lawful king along with most of the educated people and artisans to Babylon. They had taken great treasure from the city and imposed a tribute tax on the city’s inhabitants. Is renaming the new king “Zedekiah” an attempt by Nebuchadnezzar to remind the Jews that their own God had ordained their downfall and conquest by the Babylonians? (The justice of Yahweh)

In the 52 chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, oracles alternate with passages of history which confirm and illustrate the prophecies. The book of Jeremiah, as we have it, does not follow a chronological order. St Jerome, who translated the Bible for us , tells us that Jeremiah is more a collection of writings than it is a book. The oracles were dictated by Jeremiah to his scribe Baruch in 605 BC, although the prophecies actually go back to the year Jeremiah began his ministry in 626 BC.

God’s call came to Jeremiah while he was still an adolescent. At that time the kingdom of Judah was about to collapse. King Josiah instituted sweeping religious reforms which had restored the nation. For more than 40 years, until Jeremiah’s death in Egypt, the prophet remained faithful to his calling. Jeremiah’s writings overflow with spontaneity and simplicity, and he shows a most touching love for his people.

Jeremiah finds it difficult to understand why he has to suffer, why God is so slow to come to his assistance. The greater Jeremiah’s obedience to the task God has given him, the more he suffers. In chapter 38 we read:

“and so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah which was in the quarters of the guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.”

The source of Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God is his elevated concept of Him. Jeremiah asserts vigorously that there is only one God; he rejects idolatry and religious syncretism which were practices he saw within his own people. (To my mind syncretism is an acceptance of all religions as equally true.) Even Jeremiah’s oracles against foreign nations proclaim God’s omnipotence.

God’s call to Jeremiah changes him. this shy, sensitive man stands before the king of Israel and repeats the words God has given him to say:

“your eyes and your heart are set upon covetousness, and upon shedding innocent blood, and upon oppression, and running after evil works…Therefore, thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakin — He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, rotten and cast forth without the gates of Jerusalem.”

I am like Jeremiah in some ways’ I am shy and introspective, and the spoken word is often difficult for me. The study of John last year was wonderful and life changing, for here I am today, standing in front of you and speaking to you. God can change each of our lives, if we learn to listen to His voice and follow His call.

In exodus chapter 19:4-6, Moses repeats God’s words to Israel – “You have seen how I treated the Egyptians, how I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other peoples, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priest, a holy nation.”

In Jeremiah’s time the Jews failed to honor their history or faithfully practice their religion. They gave only lip service to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish people ignored the promises their ancestors had made to God, finding solace in gods they made themselves.

God sent the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and others to bring the Jewish nation back to Him.

We have seen how the Jews did not listen to the prophets, and as a consequence, the people lost their freedom and their temple, just as God had warned. But God had another plan for this ancient people, a plan He had from the very ginning of history, a plan even more wonderful than anyone had ever dreamed about.

IN one of the most hopeful and glorious passages from all the prophetic books, Jeremiah states that God promises a new covenant with his people.

“It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt, for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself the master…But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days …I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

There would be a restoration of Israel, not because the people deserved it, but because the Lord loved them. The new covenant Jeremiah promised will come with the Messiah. It will be a return to the fidelity and the intimacy of the early times in the desert. However, the new Israel will grow only out of a remnant of the people, who have stayed true to the covenant. Some 600 years after Jeremiah’s prophesy, this remnant would produce Jesus, a Man unlike any other man before or since.

Jeremiah became an example of a life of prayer lived from the heart. He prays when he sees the danger that threatens his nation; he begs men to join him in extolling Divine Justice which punishes the evil doer. He asks God to come to his aid, because he realizes that he can do nothing without God’s favor. (18:19) He teaches others that humble, trusting prayer is always effective. (37.3)

In chapter 12 Jeremiah asks God: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Those are questions we all ask. and like Jeremiah, we all complain; we all want to avoid suffering; we all expect God to answer our prayers of petition right away.

We are urged by our Church to pray from the heart and to pray frequently. Our Christian prayer is the new covenant relationship between God and man in Christ.

Remember from our study of John last year – the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus revealed the wonder of prayer in that story, for we, like the Samaritan woman, come seeking water. There at the well, Christ comes to meet us. It is Christ who asks us for a drink, as he did the Samaritan woman.

Our prayer of petition to “give me of this living water”, is a response to the plea of God who first asked us. Our prayer for the living water becomes a response of faith to the free promise of salvation, a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God.

How awesome and wonderful is our God! He, who created all things, who is complete in Himself, seeks us first and offers us a relationship to Him!

According to Holy Scripture, it is the heart that prays. In our own times we think of the mind as the center of our being. But according to the Bible, our heart is the place “to which we withdraw” to pray. Our heart is our place of decision, our place of truth, our place of encounter with God, and our place of covenant with Him. Our heart is our dwelling place where we are and where we live. If our heart is far from God, our words of prayer are in vain.

Prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father, with His Son Jesus and with the Holy Spirit. Our life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy god and in communion with Him. It is possible, because through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.

Jeremiah’s life will remain forever as a symbol of the route we must take to attain true happiness. In Jesus light is at last shed on this mystery for He says to us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24-25)

Jeremiah prophecies were spread among the Jews still in exile in Babylon. The example of his life, more than his teaching, became a fire that permeated the bones of Israel after the exile and prepared the way for Jesus, who came to cast a similar fire on earth.

Finally, in chapter 29, God speaks to all of us through Jeremiah:

“For I knew well the plans I have in mind for you… Plans for your welfare, not for your woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope! When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, You will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, You will find me with you…”

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