23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.
25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.
28Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. 29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
The Tenth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost! "Ordinary" time will continue over three more months until Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday that celebrates the sovereignty of the risen and crucified Jesus Christ. Then we'll enter a new year with the first Sunday of Advent.
Our Old Testament/Hebrew Bible reading today is from the prophet Jeremiah. A very quick overview of OT structure and content:
Torah, sometimes called the five books of Moses, not because Moses wrote them, but because Moses is a central character and their general content reflects his leadership: Genesis – Exodus – Leviticus – Numbers – Deuteronomy.
Prophets, with "former prophets" of historical bent: Joshua; Judges; 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel; 1 Kings, 2 Kings. "Major or Writing Prophets" 1, 2, and 3 Isaiah; Ezekiel; Jeremiah; Book of the Twelve, sometimes called "Minor Prophets" because of their length, not because of lack of importance.
Writings, a truly miscellaneous collection that doesn't have the same canonical content everywhere. Writings include the vital to the church Psalms; plus Job, Proverbs, Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Song of Songs; Ecclesiastes. I've probably omitted a few.
Jeremiah was a priest from the Benjaminite tradition. Saul/Paul of Tarsus also came from the tribe of Benjamin!
Jeremiah is very much within the classical tradition of Hebrew/Israelite prophecy that brings us a Word from the Lord. The popular sense of "prophet" refers to someone who foretells future events. However, scripture distinguishes between prophet or nabi, who speaks truth to power, lining out alternatives (the reigning monarch most characteristically being that power), and seer or roeh, who peers into the future and predicts what will happen, also frequently based upon the logical outcome of behaviors and events. Later in the history of Israel the roles became somewhat conflated.
As he responds to "Is there a Word from the Lord," Jeremiah is The Classic Prophet. Jeremiah also is very much within the covenantal tradition of Deuteronomy with its charge to care for the neighbor, to look after society's marginalized. This especially may include immigrants, whether refugee, asylum seeker, intentional migrant, or any of our current categories of outsiders. Like Jesus' mother Mary and Jesus himself, Jeremiah is another example of someone who had memorized and internalized scripture so he could quote and live that Word of Life.
This is Luke's lectionary year. Luke's gospel has a similar political, cultural, religious, social, and economic perspective as Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.
Immediately before today's short reading, chapter 22 is one of Jeremiah's most famous. Jeremiah addresses Josiah, who was one of the only good kings of Israel. Known as The Boy King because he assumed leadership at age 8, Josiah took care of powerless widows, orphans, strangers, sojourners. In short, Josiah literally did justice and righteousness as God calls every one of us created in the divine image to do.
Jeremiah 22 also reminds us Israel's God is not only God of liberation (rescue-redemption} from bondage, slavery, and death, with the subsequent gift of a Promised Land; God also gathers the people together and enacts homecoming (restoration) from exile and estrangement.
Where We Live
Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 23:23-24
Unlike the Ba'als and other assorted gods connected to a particular place and that required sacrifice, tribute, and other displays of loyalty, Israel's God filled the cosmos, yet was as close to each person as their own heart. Yahweh-God's only loyalty test was love of God, neighbor, and self. Distinguishing false "prophets" and true speakers of God's Word is one of the primary concerns this passage brings us. Jeremiah's ministry bridged times before the Babylonian exile, during the exile, and after some of the exiles returned home, started rebuilding city and temple and "rediscovered" Torah. You may recall during this era they found themselves colonists of yet another empire—Persia.
This late-pre-exilic caution reminds us people in all kinds of leadership sometimes (often?) do and say what they believe the people want to hear for whatever reason. They well may want to keep their jobs or get re-elected; at times they're honest and moral yet inaccurately believe maintaining an unworkable status-quo for a short while or short-term inaction won't be harmful, and for sure it will save taxpayers a whole lot.
Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. 23:28
These words surprised me! Scripture brings us many examples of God speaking through dreams; God probably has revealed quite a bit to you via dreams, or at least opened your heart to possibilities you hadn't imagined during the day. But just as with anything we hear anywhere, we need to prayerfully and patiently run everything past God's criteria of love, justice, non-violence, and hope. As Christians, Jesus is our ultimate example.