Summary: Year C Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany February 11th, 2001

Year C Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany February 11th, 2001

Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church

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By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor


Title: ¡§Blessings and curses.¡¨

Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Even though all of Sacred Scripture is one and reveals the one God, it also reveals the diverse aspects of God¡¦s character as far as we can understand them. In the Old Testament there are three general categories whereby God reveals himself. He does do in history and so we have the ¡§Historical Books.¡¨ He does so in creation and secular life and so we have the ¡§Wisdom Books.¡¨ He does so in his unique interpretation of both the world and the words of humans and so we have the ¡§Prophetical Books.¡¨ Yet, these three types or general categories overlap and dovetail. This text is an example of a prophet speaking more in the tradition of the ¡§Wisdom¡¨ viewpoint- with its emphasis on the ¡§two ways,¡¨ ¡§blessings and curses,¡¨ reward and punishment,¡¨ creation imagery and themes rather than salvation language, personal reflection rather than national reform, living the good life well and quietly in daily living rather than celebrating the liturgy with integrity. None of these are mutually exclusive, but a matter of approach and emphasis. Thus, it may seem strange to us that a prophet of the fire and intensity of Jeremiah would sound so dreamily thoughtful and passive. This is the stuff of the Wisdom Tradition¡¦s approach to life that would apply in all ages and under all circumstances.

This text has a lot in common with Psalm 1. However, here the wicked are compared to a barren bush instead of chaff as in Psalm 1. Both would be used as teaching models for the young in their moral education and meditation models for those pursuing the path of wisdom. The passage breaks neatly into the curse of verses five and six and the blessing of verses seven and eight.

In verse five, ¡§cursed is the man who trusts in human beings¡¨: Blessings and curses are typically placed side by side, especially for comparison or contrast, in Wisdom Literature. This is not a wish, but a statement of an existing situation. The word for ¡§man¡¨ here is Hebrew geber, a word connoting power, prowess and youth as opposed to the more generic Hebrew word for man, ¡¥ish. The word translated as ¡§human beings¡¨ is the Hebrew, ¡¥adam. It means pretty much the same as ¡§flesh¡¨ in the next colon: human powers apart from and independent of God. This would include anything man-made: military, political, technological, economic, social or psychological.

Whose heart turns away from the Lord: This explains the meaning of both ¡§human beings¡¨ and ¡§flesh¡¨ in this verse.

In verse six, ¡§he is like a barren bush in the desert¡¨: The Hebrew word, `ar`ar, is the shrub, Juniper oxycedrus, (still called ¡§`ar`ar¡¨ in Arabic and presents a nice word play with the location ¡§in the desert¡¨ (in Hebrew, the Arabah, the area of the Jordan valley from the river proper south to the Gulf of Aqaba).

Enjoys no change of season: The bush is, in fact, dead but appears to be alive because it always looks the same. It sprouts no new foliage come spring, because there is no spring for it in the desert.

A salt and empty earth: The presence of salt in earth like the Dead Sea desert area was considered a curse.

In verse seven, ¡§Blessed is the man¡¨: Jeremiah uses the liturgical word for ¡§blessed,¡¨ Hebrew baruk, not the more secular one, ¡¥ashre, used in Psalm 1. He uses the same word for ¡§man¡¨ as in verse five, connoting real strength and power now, because it is derived from the trust in the Lord rather than in human powers.

In verse eight, ¡§like a tree„mroots„mstream¡¨: His roots, and unlike the shrub, he has roots, stretch until they find water, grace, and derive nourishment. As in Psalm 1 ¡§planted¡¨ means ¡§transplanted,¡¨ by God, to a nearby stream, an irrigation channel that does not dry up but constantly provides that rarest of desert commodities, water.

It fears not the heat when it comes: The heat of summer and the year of drought, signifying adversity, cannot destroy the root system which trust develops. Even should the clear experience of grace, symbolized by water, become seemingly scarce or absent, the built-up root system will sustain the tree through the rough and dry periods. In fact, the tree brings forth leaves when heat comes and fruit when drought comes.

Jeremiah is a Semite, thinking and speaking as a Semite. Typically, moral questions and issues are first put in either or categories. Jesus, himself, said that one is either hot or cold, if lukewarm he would ¡§vomit you out of my mouth.¡¨ However, they are referring to basic, fundamental options or directions of life. They do not mean that we are to not use our human powers or human resources. They do not mean that we always must bypass them or completely distrust them. What they mean is that we are not to ascribe the same total and unquestioning trust in them as we do in God. They simply cannot deliver or be equal to that kind of trust, and it is possible, even likely, that they will betray that trust, whereas God will not. It is simply a fact of our faith experience that trust in God becomes justified through human agency and agencies. That having been said, we must not use this or a similar caveat to replace trust in God or misplace it in human, worldly or superhuman powers.

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