I do not think there’s a more fascinating pairing of a Biblical portion and its companion text in the Prophets than the one we see this week. In fact, it’s so captivating I can’t keep from examining – briefly – three of its gems, rather than, as usual, exploring a single one more deeply.
In Leviticus, we read a detailed account of the sacrifices that were required to be brought to the Temple. In Jeremiah, the prophet goes to a deeper level to teach what God values and wants most from us.
Some suggest that the prophet is saying that the ancient practices of sacrifice are no longer important to God, but rather that God now seeks our nearness only through being ethical in intention and deed.
I join the majority in thinking this is not quite right. The prophet is more likely saying that offerings are still expected by God, but not those that are made in a hypocritical or insidious manner. As Jeremiah preached, it is surely noxious to God when a person makes an offering in sacred space and then goes out in the world to behave in unkind and unrighteous ways toward others.
I would go further to suggest that, though the Temple no longer stands, there are ways of understanding the ancient sacrifices that are still relevant and speak to us today. We continue to be called to “come near” the Divine with appropriate offerings. They, of course, will no longer be bulls and birds; rather, they will be prayer, meditation, time devoted to service, and resources that support and celebrate the sacred in our own day.
We find the second lovely gem in the conclusion to the prophetic text. Jeremiah wants us to know what God values most. We tend to value wisdom, might, and riches. Yet, we are taught here, clearly and powerfully, that it is kindness, justice, and righteousness that God values, as should we.
In fact, there’s important guidance for those of us who want to be proud of who we are and how we’re seen. And it’s not about our wisdom, might, and riches.
Rather, “let those who glory, glory in this: that they understand and know Me, that I, the Eternal, practice kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things do I delight, says the Eternal One.”
The third, and my favorite, gem is in the verse in which God tells Jeremiah: “When you speak all these words to them, they shall not listen; when you call them they shall not answer you.”
Why would God bother, and have Jeremiah bother, with words and warnings, if the people won’t heed them? Have you ever felt this in your own life – that you have something to say that is very important to making things better, but others ignore you totally? Indeed they may dislike you, even punish you for speaking the words.
Do you go ahead and act anyway? Why?
Might we act because, though it’s unlikely we’ll have an impact, there’s a chance, however small, that others will change heart, listen, and turn to the good?
Might we act because we want to be sure that good words are said and heard, even if not immediately followed. We might hope that one day, perhaps after bad consequences are experienced, these words will be remembered and will help guide the wayward back to the right path.
Finally, might we act because it’s right, in and of itself? The reality in the world will include the words, whether they’re followed or not. At least, the words are there, and there’s a record of them.
Whether Jeremiah’s contemporaries were deaf to them or not, they’re there now for you and me. Whether we listen, answer, and follow is now our choice.