As a member of Generation X, I often warn my baby boom generation colleagues against using sentimental language around “family” to describe the church. The baby boomers were the first to divorce more often than they stayed married. Mine is the first generation where we can ask a total stranger when their parents divorced. Many in my generation know family as the place that harms you, where promises are broken.
Yet harm in the family is not new, as God’s prophet makes clear: The new covenant “will not be like the covenant . . . they broke, though I was their husband.” Humanity seems to look to break our covenants as soon as the ink is dry. Christians often speak as though this were true only of Israel’s covenants, but we are dead wrong. We break covenants whenever we sin, that is, whenever we prove our humanity. (See Romans 3:20, 23.)
Astoundingly, God keeps covenants even when we do not. There are no non-sinners around with whom to make a covenant that will not be broken. So God risks covenants with such as us. God feels the hurt like a spurned spouse. Yet God stays married to us.
During Jesus’ ministry, some Sadducees ask him a question many modern readers consider strange: If a woman is married seven times, whose wife will she be in heaven? (See Luke 20:27-40.) The longer we ponder Jeremiah 31, the less strange the initial question seems. God will heal broken promises. What does that mean for dissolved marriage vows? Who knows? Even Jesus punts on the question. But make no mistake: God keeps promises. One day, God will heal our feeble ability to keep promises. God will forgive us, and God will forget we sinned in the first place.
God, thank you for keeping your promises. Despite our failures, help us to keep our promises to you and to others. 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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