Our reading is from a collection of laments for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and their allies the Chaldeans. For centuries it was believed that Jeremiah was the author, but modern Biblical scholarship (which began with Erasmus in the 15th century) has decided otherwise. No author has been identified, and it is generally believed that there were more than one.
As you listen, bear in mind that lamentations are prayers. Prayers of lament ask nothing of God except to listen. Neither do they accuse God as the author of grief. They simply open to him broken hearts.
Most of our reading consists of similes and metaphors expressing the depth of grief, but toward the end appears an admission that this grief was brought upon Jerusalem by the transgressions by her people. A people who believe that God rewards the good and faithful and punishes the wicked in this world can only believe that any grief coming to them must be caused by their own sinfulness.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Habakkukk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Habakkuk is a mysterious figure. Nothing is known of him except his prophetic poem in the Bible. Our reading is a small part of a set of questions Habakkuk puts to God and God’s response. Habakkuk is audacious in questioning God about the injustice he sees everywhere and about the immediate enemy, the Chaldeans, a fierce tribal people who are helping the Babylonians in the sack of Israel. God’s answer is to wait: justice will eventually be done; just wait. Such waiting can only be accomplished by one of faith. Look at the very last lines of the book: the herds are scattered, the crops gone; they are without food and waiting for the attack of an enemy that will kill them all: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord…the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.”
II Timothy 1:1-14
Our reading is taken from the second letter to Paul’s protégé, Timothy. Many scholars believe that Paul did not write this letter, or that the shorter letter he did write is now incorporated into a larger piece written by others. The Paul of the letter writes from a Roman prison, where he faces certain martyrdom. His first concern in this section of the letter is Christological. We are saved by God’s grace, he says, but a specific grace, the gift of Christ. Christ the savior existed before he appeared as Jesus, but at that appearance brought us the saving “gospel,” a word meaning good story or good news. (It does not mean Matthew. Mark, Luke, and John, whose accounts of Jesus had not yet been written.) Timothy’s job is to carry forward and teach the gospel as he received it from Paul. He will be reinforced by the Holy Spirit that had been passed to him when he was commissioned by religious rites that involved the laying on of hands.