Daily Reflection
February 21st, 2008

Barbara Dilly

Department of Sociology and Anthropology
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Thursday of the Second Week in Lent
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
Luke 16:19-31

We are now nearly through the second week of Lent, our focused time for repentance and renewal. Hope is on the way say Jeremiah and the Psalmist. In reflecting on the readings for today, I was amazed to find that Jeremiah almost repeats exactly the words from Psalm 1 in his message of hope. The Psalm was written ages before Jeremiah started his ministry as part of collection that came together over a long period of time; a collection that Jeremiah and the people of Judah celebrated as part of their faith heritage and covenant story with the Lord. The context of Jeremiah’s writings was the last years of Judah as an independent political entity just before it was taken over by Babylon. The themes of Jeremiah’s prophetic teaching have to do with the covenant relationship between the people of Judah and God.

In presenting the word of the Lord through the oracle in this text, Jeremiah is giving the people of Judah hope that they will have a future after Babylon is defeated, but only if they remain faithful to their covenant with God. This message is also revealed to us. If we trust in the Lord and place our hope in the Lord, we have a fruitful future. If we follow the counsel of the wicked and sit in the company of the insolent, we can be easily led astray and surely end up in a hopeless state. Jeremiah tells those who keep the covenant that even when the heat comes and we experience a time of drought, we will have roots deep enough to endure. We will not experience distress. Jeremiah uses the same metaphors as the Psalmist in telling us that we are blessed if we trust in the Lord, like a tree planted near water, we will prosper and bear fruit. To trust in the Lord and to hope in the Lord is to keep the covenant.

There is another message here in this text. Jeremiah seems to change directions in his message without a transition when shifts to the Lord’s concerns with our minds and hearts. Why does he turn a message about hope into a warning about the tortuous nature of the human heart and the vagaries of the mind? It helps to read all of Chapter 17. Here we find that Jeremiah is very worried that the people of Judah will lose the heritage that was given to them. He uses literary forms that express his fears poetically about the problem of the unjust prosperity of the wicked. He shares the imagery of fruitless deserts, fruitful trees, and devious hearts that defy God to shift themes from hope and confidence in God’s justice to God’s anger and judgment of those who forsake the Lord. Jeremiah does not want to see God’s Day of Judgment descend with fury. His message is more than a call to hope; it is primarily a call to repentance. And so is the parable that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel lesson. Jesus is speaking to those of us who refuse to trust or hope in his resurrection when he says that the indifferent rich won’t repent of their selfishness even if someone should rise from the dead to warn them of their condemnation. What does that say to us?

Lent is a time of repentance and renewal. If we can get our heads around that concept and open our hearts to it, the behavior will follow. This is not a time for us, the people of God, to judge the depths of each other’s repentance and renewal, but to open our hearts to each other and to encourage each other in our individual processes of learning to hope and to trust in the Lord. Hope is on the way, and with that hope, there is justice.

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