PROPER 21, SEPTEMBER 29
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
The Babylonians and Chaldeans are besieging Jerusalem. The king has put Jeremiah in prison for daring to prophesy that Jerusalem will fall (which it did). Yet in the middle of this crisis, God directs Jeremiah to buy some land being offered for sale by his cousin. He does so in a transaction more detailed than any other business transaction in the Bible. But Jeremiah is puzzled that God should tell him to make such an investment at a time when the city and kingdom are about to collapse. In a passage that follows, God explains that he is allowing Jerusalem to be punished for their sins; yet, in due time, “I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety.” Jeremiah’s purchase is a sign of their ultimate redemption from slavery
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Amos, the goat-herder prophet, condemns the leaders of urban Judah, whom he depicts as lounging about enjoying their wealth and luxuries while their enemies prepare to destroy them. He may have been speaking of the cities of Hamath or Gath, famous for their luxurious living. They care nothing for “the ruin of Joseph,” meaning the northern kingdom of Israel whose people had believed they were descendants of the sons of Joseph. Now they are gone, dispersed, their cities in ruins, yet the spoiled rich of the southern kingdom do nothing.
1 TIMOTHY 6:6-19
According to Luke, Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25). Paul isn’t so sure. He does a bang-up job of convincing the none-rich they are better off without money, the love of which is the “root of all kinds of evil.” They will get their reward at the coming of Christ, whom he describes in inspired words—-king of kings dwelling in “unapproachable light.” Yet the rich too can be saved if they are “generous, and ready to share.” There is a long tradition in Biblical criticism going back to Roman times which holds that Paul sees two kinds of rich people, good ones who share, and bad ones who in their ambition fall into a sinful life. This suggest that if wealth falls into your lap, perhaps by way of inheritance or the winning the lottery, you have committed no sin. But if you have to earn wealth, watch out: you’re in danger. This is too simple. Was Paul trying not to offend wealthy Christians who supported the new church? If we are to make sense of what Paul says, we will have to look at it in some other light, perhaps of will-the will to grab money. (I don’t recommend it, because it’s long and often dull, but Peter Brown’s “Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity” has some good discussions.)