PROPER 18, SEPTEMBER 4-10
Jeremiah did not sustain his image of God as the potter (found also in Romans 9). The fundamental metaphor is that God the potter will examine the pot, that is, the people, he has created on his wheel. If he likes it, he will preserve it. If he doesn’t like it, he will crush it and rework the clay and make another pot. But Jeremiah, needing to represent an outside threat to these people, shifts the metaphor: he will now make another pot, one of evil, representing the Babylonians, against the pot representing the people. Thus we have an image of warfare among the pots in the shed, not, in my opinion, an effective metaphor.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Our reading takes us back to that incredible forty-year journey through the wildness made by the entire Jewish people after their escape from Egyptian slavery. During their long encampment at Mount Sinai (also called Horeb), Moses brought down from mountain the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). He then called the people together to explain that God was making a covenant with them. He would help and protect them if they would obey him. The covenant included a code of laws they must keep (20:22 – 23:19). Many years later, the Jews reached Moab and camped on the east side of the Jordan, from which they could see the land of Canaan that had been promised them. Moses has been told that he cannot enter Canaan. He then calls another assembly to renew the covenant, reminding the Jews that claiming their promised land obliged them to keep God’s commandments. Our reading today is the conclusion of his speech exhorting the people to obedience. Now he is ready to die.
Our lessons is almost the whole of a letter that Paul wrote to Philemon. He and Timothy are in prison, but in their confinement have been ministering to new converts, among them Philemon’s run-away slave, Onesimus. Paul is sending Onesimus back to his master, as the law requires, but Onesimus has become a devout Christian and almost a son to Paul. So Paul expects Philemon to accept him, not just as a servant, but as a brother in Christ. He does not raise a moral issue about slavery, but makes clear that true Christian love transcends any social stratification.