[readings for 17th Sunday after Pentecost (RCL): Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; PS 14;1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-10]
Jeremiah is not all about ‘judgment’ in spite of what the reading seems to focus upon. In 4:14 God says, “wash your heart of evil that you may be saved.” Time is run out on God’s people. A wind (ruah) comes from the north. The same word, is used in creation accounts, hovering over the primordial chaos. Here it is a wind of judgment: Babylon, or the Chaldeans. Creation and salvation are interconnected angles on the same reality.
Strong words are used to describe God’s daughter who has gone astray; “foolish” and “stupid” are synonyms which mean people who despise wisdom. The term can also be translated as impiety or licentiousness. Wisdom literature says “Wisdom” was present at the beginning of creation, even acting as an agent of creation. Here the absence of wisdom (foolishness) shows that God’s people have chosen the way of death (and un-creation) so the judgment reverses creation: the earth is waste and void (Genesis 1).The land quakes (apocalyptic). People are gone, birds are gone, and vegetation is gone: all the reverse of Genesis 1.
In the archetype of this literature we recall the great flood. (v27) “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.” Like in the flood some hope remains. It is not totally over. God finds a way to save from chaos yet again! There is Good News even in the starkest judgment texts of the Bible. Ruin…. Destruction…. Devastation…. But always some hope. Always there is a promise that it is “not a full end.” It is hard to convey in human language the judgment of God. Suffice to say even damnation seems hell bent on salvation.
1 Timothy is a reminder that “the grace of God overflows” with “mercy.” Even an enemy of God can become a friend. Even the worst of sinners can be redeemed and reclaimed. Paul, “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” has been appointed to God’s service. Planted deep in his heart is the experience which he shares today “this saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul’s version of John 3:16….
The Gospel spells out the theme more clearly. Jesus is surrounded by sinners and tax collectors who have come to hear Him. The religious leaders are upset that Jesus is offering table fellowship to them. At the table (communion altar) we encounter Jesus as well. We are probably similar to those sinners (busy making a living with little time for religious disciplines and the closely guarded life of obedient faith). We do not focus on God. Yet when we hear of the Father’s love and mercy it stirs something within us. There is a hunger and need which wakens.
Jesus tells a story of lost sheep and lost coins. He talks about the joy of finding and equates sinners to treasures. Jesus says there is a party in heaven when some one is found. [The joke is the idea that there are 99 righteous who have no need to repent.] It is hard to imagine God and the whole of heaven is hooping and hollering because I finally say, “I am sorry” and return to Jesus. Hard to believe, but true. That is the point of today’s message from God. No matter how bad you might think you are, you are loved and desired. God wants to save you. Think on such things and enjoy the mercy and grace!