I find this passage of such critical importance to my religion that I keep a permanent bookmark here in my Bible. At the return of the Jews from Babylonian slavery, Jeremiah announces an individualism that would have been inconceivable to earlier generations. No longer will children be made to suffer for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers, “but all shall die for their own sins” (31:30). God transforms the very nature of covenants, for he establishes a new covenant with every individual, one that frees her/him from dependence upon priests and rabbis and traditions and rules. God will write his law in every heart, will allow everyone to know God’s forgiving nature. Jeremiah’s vision of God’s connectedness to individuals prepared the way for Christianity.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Jacob, after an absence of several years, is returning home with two wives and a great many children, servants, and cattle. He is fearful of his brother Esau, from whom he had taken the family birthright and their father’s blessing. He has sent his people and herds ahead, and spends a night alone. Of the myths of the Old Testament, there is none more provocative than the story of Jacob’s struggle with divinity by the ford of the Jabbok River. God or his angel (depending upon how you take the mysterious figure) is highly pleased with Jacob and, as a symbol of his fatherhood of the entire Jewish people, changes his name to Israel. Thereafter, the Jews would often call themselves the children of Israel. As in all other myths, one can find here multiple meanings about a human’s relationship to God. Here is one I like because it neatly fits the story: In wrestling, Jacob confesses to God his sins against his brother. If that interpretation is acceptable, the story is completed when Esau, not at all angry as Jacob had feared, lovingly welcomes his brother.
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
Our lesson continues the instructions given by Paul in a letter to the young minister Timothy, who unlike most early Church leaders, had been reared as a Christian. Paul urges him to make use of Scripture in his teaching: “all Scripture is inspired by God.” He means, of course, the Jewish Scripture (which we call the Old Testament). Christianity as yet had no scripture of its own. In fact, Paul’s letters are the earliest-written books of the New Testament. For Paul, the Scriptures have authority, but give way to the gospel of Christ. Timothy is to continue what we call the “oral tradition,” passing the teachings of Christ by word of mouth from Paul and the apostles to early Christian leaders and from them to bishops and priests in succession down to the present day.