October 25, 2015
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Imagine being trapped under a 20-foot pile of rubble. An earthquake hit, your apartment building collapsed, after the noise, the screams, the crashing, you find yourself somehow alive, completely buried in a silent, pitch-black space. You would pray and think and sleep and wish for food and water or human contact. You might even try tapping something to alert rescuers to your presence. Yet think of the relief that would swell over you when you started hearing the sound of digging and voices and movement, and most of all, when you saw a hand stick through the rubble to reach for you and bring you to safety.
Thankfully, very few of us will be in need of such a dramatic rescue. And yet we have been rescued from the curse of sin. Do you feel “rescued”? The power of that gratitude for someone who saves your life can drive you to amazing lengths. Think of all the stories where a man feels permanently indebted to the friend who saved his life. This Sunday’s first reading is all about this kind of rescue. Jeremiah prophesies that God will rescue his people from the land of exile and bring them back to the land of promise with great rejoicing. They will feel that surge of gratitude that comes with liberation.
Losing the Promised Land
Like many of the prophetic passages in the Old Testament, Jeremiah reflects on the problem of exile. God has promised his people a land, helped them to conquer it and settle in it, but then after a few centuries, everything goes haywire. The people of God are split in two, then are conquered, then are forcibly exile from the Promised Land. It seems that all is lost. All of the promises God made to Abraham have been turned on their head. The people of God sinned and brought the curses of the covenant upon themselves and so find themselves in exile. How could this happen? But Jeremiah does not linger on the negative forever. He looks forward to the time of restoration, when God will bring his people back to the Promised Land.
A New Exodus
This moment of return or “re-gathering” is like a new exodus, where the exiled Israelites get to go from the land of Egypt anew, across the desert to the land of promise. Although this time, Egypt will not be the oppressor, but “the north country” (Jer 31:8), that is, Assyria. Jeremiah is looking forward to when the kingdom will be restored. The people will come back—and not just the strong, travel-ready types, but the blind and the lame. Nor will the people be barren and despairing, but they will return with pregnant women and women in labor pains—the joy of the next generation is on the way. They will sing to the Lord “O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.” (Jer 31:7 ESV) What sounds like a petition is really a celebration.
The Joy of the Harvest
The singing of the returnees will resound in the land. It is like Psalm 126, which is paired with this reading at the Mass: “He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Ps 126:1 RSV) The people had left the land of promise with sadness and depression, thinking that they would never return, similar to starving farmers sowing their seed in gloom after a long, hard winter. Yet the weeping of sorrow, repentance and exile, leads to the joy of harvest, child-bearing, and return to the land. The story of God’s people has not come to an end, but it is granted a new beginning!
The Joy of Being Rescued
This is where we can reap a harvest of insight from Jeremiah. The joyful singing of those returning to the land should be upon our lips as well. We, who were “dead through trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1 RSV) have been rescued by Jesus. Our sins that were like weights, weighing us down, preventing us from being united with God, have been washed away. Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we no longer need to be trapped under the rubble heap of sin. He reaches his hand through the darkness to bring us out and we can enter into that joyful spirit of returning to “the land,” which in our case is “the way things are supposed to be.” That is, we can have a renewed and unified relationship with God. We don’t have to live in the darkness of sin, dragged down by slavery to our inclinations and proclivities. We can be free, liberated, rescued.
Finding Our Way Back Home
On our journey with God, sometimes there are ups and sometimes there are downs. Not every day is a mountain top. Not every day is filled with smiles. But God leads us through times of dryness and joy, times of desolation and consolation. Riding that wave of his spiritual leading can be tough to handle. Yet feeling deeply the sorrow for sin leads to repentance and celebratory joy, a personal exodus from the land of Egypt into the Promised Land of God’s love, a return from exile to home. Experiencing his forgiveness is about finally coming home to that place which is more “home” than anywhere else: his loving embrace.