Commentary on Jeremiah 31:7-14
These verses offer real good news to a people longing for it.
They are words of hope and restoration; a message of joy and praise. But there’s a catch, this is not a statement of facts. It is an oracle, a promise yet to be fulfilled, a description of things hoped for. Jeremiah is ever hopeful and his message is delivered to a people sorely in need of hope. The context of the text is that of the exiled people of Israel, who have suffered long in captivity and eagerly welcome the prophecy of a divine promise of release and restoration. But the prophecy is appropriate to the situation of many in the present society, who are exiled from the largesse of society and feel hopeless about the challenges confronting them in their daily lives.
The earlier verses of chapter 31 (1-6), addressed as they are to the remnant of Israel that have survived the devastation of being overrun by the various conquerors of their nation, offer the assurance of God’s empowering enlivening presence that will bring about their restoration. These people have suffered devastating loss that has extended beyond their personal and familial lives, beyond their religious and societal norms, to their very culture. In similar, yet different ways, many groups in our society feel devastated by the systems and structures of today’s society that devalue their personhood; that minimalize or even deny their culture; and that exile them from the places of familiarity and ease that they once enjoyed.
Loss of employment, home, family, financial stability, and health move one away from situations of comfort and ease and can force one into places of dis-ease, despair and debilitating loss. So hearing, as the Israelites did, that God has not forgotten God’s covenant of care for God’s people is a word of comfort. And in light of the present culture’s disregard or dismissal of those who are disabled — “the blind and the lame,” and of women — “those with child and those in labor,” as unworthy of attention or respect, this text is a message of empowerment. The underlying message that speaks to those in today’s culture who are often forgotten, disregarded, marginalized, or dismissed, is that regardless of your situation, God has a saving, affirming, uplifting word for you.
Thus it is essential that the message of the preacher be inclusive of all people. God is concerned even about the weakest among us. The blessing of God is not a sign of worthiness, no matter what criteria is used. God’s compassion and justice extends to all and promise God’s restorative justice to those who have been brought low by any and all circumstances of life. The promises of God delivered through the words of the prophet transcends time and place and gathers all people of every time and place into the ever-present grace of God that offers fullness of life to all.
In a very real sense we are all vulnerable to the vagaries of human existence and there are situations of life for each of us that can bring us down and land us in places of death and destruction. But not only does God promise restoration but abundant life. God promises prosperity that is not contingent on or evidenced by worldly wealth as the common teaching on prosperity gospel expounds. One’s riches are not necessarily evidence of God’s favor. Indeed, God’s favor is upon all people. God offers a reversal of misfortune that invites joyful celebration with shouts and singing. With God, there is abundance that dispels want, and feasting that denies hunger of body and spirit.
This text that falls within the feasting and light-filled celebration of Christmas also extends into and calls us to acknowledge and participate in the true gift-giving celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord. It is a celebration that brings together all God’s children. In terms of Israel, God is reuniting the nations that have been separated and perhaps in terms of the Christian church, we might consider that in the final analysis, God is reuniting all the people under Christ regardless of doctrine or denomination or life situation. However we have separated ourselves, the message from the prophet is clear, in God’s sight we are one. As Christians, in Christ we are one.
The oracle of Jeremiah is written to the exiled people of his day. But it is also written to the exiled people of this and any day. Whatever has divided, segregated, or separated the people of God in any way from one another has been overturned. God has made us all one and the reunion of the family is a time of joy. In Christ we have the promise and the opportunity of unity with the whole people of God. In this season we are invited to join this celebration of unity and of life through the promised salvation of God offered to us in Jesus Christ.