My teenager recently lost a tooth. He’s long past the age where he believes a tooth fairy will appear with money in exchange for his dental offerings, but he still put the tooth in a plastic bag and left it for us to find.
Teeth appear at key moments in the Bible. In some volatile instances Jesus promises that in judgment there will be “gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28). Even those with minimal biblical knowledge know the Torah’s insistence on “a tooth for a tooth” (Exod. 21:24). Most think it a command for biblical vengeance. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” a bumper sticker retorts. But the instruction in Exodus actually limits violence. If someone knocks out my tooth, I am not allowed to take indiscriminate vengeance. Justice must be equal to or lesser than the original offence. In today’s text, the prophet Jeremiah agrees—God punishes offenders (those who eat the sour grapes), not their children.
Here again, teeth appear at a key moment as Jeremiah prophesies that God will bring a new covenant to the people of Israel. In this time of planting and building, children will not be held responsible (have their teeth set on edge) for their parents’ iniquities. First, Jeremiah says that each person will be held accountable for their own iniquities, but then the point of God’s new covenant is made clear: God will forgive God’s people, and everyone will know God.
As a child, my son believed talk of his lost teeth was a sign of coming financial gain. As Christians, we don’t believe in fairies, but we believe talk of teeth is a sign that something good is coming. And indeed God promises a new covenant where no one’s teeth are set on edge as God does what God always does—forgives evil and delights in mercy.
God, thank you for your new covenants built on love and mercy. Amen.
At last Jeremiah is able to bring a message of restoration and hope. God promises a new covenant with the people, and they will internalize the law in their hearts so that they will keep it. The psalmist rejoices in such a reality. He meditates on God’s law all day and has been granted profound understanding. This allows him to walk faithfully in God’s paths. The reading from Second Timothy confirms the ongoing power of God’s law in scripture, which is given by God for our good. Timothy is charged always to be ready to preach it faithfully. Luke hits on a different theme: the importance of persistent prayer. In the parable a heartless judge finally yields to a persistent widow, so we should be similarly tenacious with our prayers to God.
Read Jeremiah 31:27-34. How have you broken your covenant with God? How has God responded?
Read Psalm 119:97-104. The Jewish laws of the Hebrew scriptures are part of our Christian heritage. How can you delight in the law?
Read 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5. How can you learn or teach from scriptures you do not normally read?
Read Luke 18:1-8. Through the familiar call to pray always, the author reminds us that we are called to pray for what God wants. What is at stake when you pray for justice and mercy?
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