Tuesday of Pentecost 5 – Jeremiah 28:1-9

1 In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

The picture you see here hardly seems appropriate to a devotional. It was painted in 1851 by a British artist named William Holman Hunt and is entitled “The Hireling Shepherd.” The painting scandalized London at the time and caused quite a stir. The artist himself finally weighed in on the debate. The shepherd is neglecting his sheep who wander into a wheat field. The painting is made more ominous by the fact he is showing the young woman a death’s-head hawkmoth. Hunt insisted that this was an illustration of clergy who engaged in pointless theological debates to the neglect of their people.

Jeremiah encounters a false prophet in this reading. The prophet tells the people what they want to hear. He says the exile will soon be over, the people now in Babylon will come home, the holy items from the temple will be returned. It is the opposite of what Jeremiah has been saying. No one wanted to hear Jeremiah’s message, they would all rather have heard the more cheerful news which Hananiah had to share. Today, over 2500 years later, things have not changed that much. There are many who will tell us what we want to hear and lead us to comfort but finally to death. God’s faithful people listen to all which he says, even when what God says makes them uncomfortable about their sins, their values, and their success. Indeed, as Jeremiah intimates, God’s Word usually makes people very uncomfortable.

It can be difficult to hear that God’s idea of the perfect Christian life does not necessarily conform to the comfortable, middle-class, American lives so many of us lead. The COVID pandemic, the ensuing economic turmoil, the recent racial unrest have given us occasion to expose and re-examine many of the things which we likely never thought about before. We just assumed that is the way things are. Now we find ourselves asking if these things are necessary. Do we need them? Do they have to be this way? Listen to what God says. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. God forgives sins; He does not excuse them.

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