Jeremiah lived at a time when the land of Judah, and its capital city Jerusalem, were under threat from the Babylonians. The land of Israel to the north, in which ten of the original tribes of the people of Israel lived, had already been destroyed by the Assyrians; now a similar fate threatened the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the land of Judah. Jeremiah had the thankless task of proclaiming God’s warning to the government and people: disaster is coming, and can only be averted through repentance.
The people did not like Jeremiah’s message. They were a religious people. They had great faith in God’s promises to their royal house, descendants of King David, that there should always be a son of David on the throne. They knew that the temple in Jerusalem was holy to God, and they trusted that God would never let his worship there come to an end.
It was inconceivable that God would allow the holy city of Jerusalem to be captured by idol-worshipping Babylonians. But that was exactly what Jeremiah was prophesying.
What had the people done to deserve the judgement Jeremiah talked about?
Simply this: they had deserted God. True, they thronged the temple and brought their sacrifices to the altar there. But they also worshipped other gods (just to be on the safe side?), and ignored the law’s requirements for justice and mercy. Civil and religious authorities were as corrupt as each other. In the face of disaster they did not listen to Jeremiah, but went their own way, seeking help from people God told them to avoid. They had forgotten the warnings that God would bring disaster, not good, on them if they persisted in disobedience.
Jeremiah’s words in the first reading were particularly harsh: God said he would not relent. The reason was simple: the people refused to listen. There was nothing more to be done to bring them to repentance – and without repentance there could be no salvation. God had tried again and again, but t was no good.
The stories Jesus told in Luke 15 show how much God longs for people to repent. The lost sheep and the lost coin do not represent only the poor unfortunates who through no fault of their own have gone astray. They represent the tax collectors and “sinners” – the irreligious and stubborn people of the day, the outcasts from respectable society. The parables show that God loves them, and will go to incredible lengths to bring them back to where they belong. Jesus knew exactly what those lengths meant in reality – the cross. And he knew just how much joy it gives when people respond.
Why is there so much joy in heaven when one sinner repents and changes the direction of their lives? It is not only that the person now is where they should be, in a good relationship with God. The joy is also great because of what is not now going to happen: the lost soul is not going to stay lost, and is not going to a hopeless future. Disaster has been averted by repentance!
1) What was wrong with the attitude of the Pharisees and teachers of the law?
2) Who are the ‘lost’ today?