Lesson: Jeremiah 31:7-14
7 Thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”
11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the LORD.
After the righteous and reforming King Josiah was killed in battle at Megiddo (from which we get the Greek word Armageddon) in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e., speaking for YHWH) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Jeremiah underwent substantial revisions between the time of Jeremiah (627 to 586 BCE) and the First Century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were different versions of the Book of Jeremiah. The Ancient Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were added later by writers whose theological outlook was closely aligned with the Deuteronomists. (In fact, Chapter 52 in Jeremiah is virtually word-for-word with 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 written by the Deuteronomists after the Exile.)
Jeremiah is largely a prophet of doom and gloom, but today’s reading is in poetry style and is part of a two-chapter “Book of Consolation.” The thoughts in these chapters are similar to Second Isaiah (Isaiah of the Exile) in stating that Jerusalem would be restored.
In this reading, the prophet spoke for YHWH (translated as LORD in all capital letters) and went so far as to say that YHWH would reunify all Israel (“Jacob” in vv. 7 and 11 – Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” after he wrestled with the angel in Genesis 32).
The prophet urged the people to sing with gladness (vv.7 and 12), and to pray to YHWH to save the “remnant” (the usual term for those taken away in the Babylonian Exile).
Ephraim, called YHWH’s firstborn (v.9), was the largest of the 10 tribes in Northern Israel and was often shorthand for Israel – the Northern 10 Tribes. Ephraim was one of Joseph’s sons (Gen.48). “Jacob” (v.11) is shorthand for all of Israel and Judea, in that Jacob was the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they didn’t always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contains many terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gives new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter was intended to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations and a model for a new social order.
In today’s reading from the first chapter, the author was working his way up to the main theme of unity and emphasized that the Christ mediates all the blessings we receive (v.3) and that the Jesus Followers were adopted as God’s children through the Christ (v.5).
He went on to give thanksgiving for the faith of the community (v.15) and prayed that the “eyes of their hearts” will be enlightened (v.18).
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and was written around 50 CE. Accordingly, it is the oldest writing in the Christian Scriptures.
Thessalonica is a seaport city and was the capital of Macedonia. Even today, Thessaloniki (as it is now called) is a charming city of one million persons, and the cultural center of Greece. The saying there is that “Thessaloniki is to Athens as San Francisco is to Los Angeles.”
The letter encouraged the community to be steadfast in the face of persecution. Today’s reading consists of concluding verses of the letter and follows an exhortation for the Jesus Followers to be at peace among themselves (v.13) and to not repay evil for evil (v.15).
Paul emphasized that God’s call to us is ongoing and he encouraged them to rejoice, pray, and hold fast to that which is good (vv.16-21) in anticipation of the parousia – the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 23).
Paul urged them not to “despise the words of prophets” (v.20). Prophesy in this context meant words spoken, usually during worship, as coming from the Lord to the community through inspired members of the assembly.
In his prayer that their “spirit and soul and body be kept sound (v.23), Paul was not treating these as separate parts of a human person, but as three vantage points for viewing persons, each of which is important.
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
41 The parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.