Good news or bad news

Divisions in Jeremiah’s time.

Divisions in Jesus’s time.

Divisions in our time! Why? We could go back to the ‘good news’ / ‘bad news’ notion that was somewhat explanatory in our examination of the Scriptures. Or we might just, as it were, ‘follow the money’ and ask who? Who is it that gets the rewards?

Image by Alex Peroff

Good news or bad news

By Steve Hall

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 11:18-20
John 7:40-53

Several thoughts, all flowing in the same direction, follow from this week’s readings. The two I like best are: “It’s de’ja vu all over again.” And “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” You’ll see what I mean as we examine the texts.

First, we have Jeremiah, frequently referred to as one of the major prophets. (‘Major’ not because of his importance but because of the length of his texts.) Jeremiah lived during extreme external pressure on the small kingdom of Judah. It was also a time when the people abandoned their Covenant with God, even burning their children as offerings to Baal. Consequently, Jeremiah was guided by God to proclaim that the nation of Judah would suffer famine, foreign conquest, plunder, and captivity in a land of strangers. Nobody likes bad news. We don’t know, and they didn’t then. And the word throughout the kingdom was, “How do we get rid of this naysayer, this prophet of doom?” In his own mind, Jeremiah thought, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.” They did ‘get’ him by throwing him into an empty cistern, hoping he would die. A foreigner rescued him. And Jeremiah thought: “I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me.”

Jesus was not so naive.

Plots against him were slow to take shape, but in time, they were to become well entrenched in the gutters of their minds. In the meantime, some sincerely and hopefully questioned his identity. In this passage, those favorable to Jesus come up against a different maneuver. It’s a simple one: just supply false information. When people suggest that he is a prophet or might even be the Christ, the religious leaders give misleading information. The first is that “The Christ will not come from Galilee.” If you stop there in your reading, you might think that this was a reasonable challenge based on the Scriptures. They give themselves away at the end of this section when when they insult Nicodemus who is attempting to suggest the proper legal procedure. “You are not from Galilee also, are you?”

Others who think Jesus was born in Nazareth remind the questioners: “The Christ will be of David's family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" Ironically, their words give credence to the people’s suggestion that he is the Christ since both points were true. So much for spurious arguments.

However, our examination must include the context for today’s passage. If our reading had begun just a few verses earlier, we would have read this exchange— Jesus begins:

“‘Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?’ The people [i.e., the Jewish leaders] answered, ‘You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?’” (John 7:19-20)

With that, we can return to the two epigrams with which we started.

“It’s de’ja vu all over again.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength!

“Look and see . . . . no prophet arises from Galilee."

Divisions in Jeremiah’s time. Why? Some don’t like bad news.

Divisions in Jesus’s time. Why? Some don’t like Good News.

Divisions in our time! Why? We could go back to the ‘good news’ — ‘bad news’ notion that was somewhat explanatory in our examination of the Scriptures. Or we might just, as it were, ‘follow the money’ and ask who? Who is it that gets the rewards? Who benefits from strife, division, argument, sorrow, pain, alienation, separation, and lack of communication? Who? Either side will claim that they are not the ones who benefit. Neither side will claim that they are the ones who benefit. But still, there is one beneficiary. These thoughts come not just because mankind so diligently repeats the errors of the past but because I am reminded of Evil’s persistent power.

Those who have read the books or seen the movie The Lord of the Rings may remember a running tension between hobbits, elves, dwarfs, men, and wizards. Unfortunately, the film set aside one of the most important statements on that subject that can be found in the trilogy. The line comes when those from the Fellowship of the Ring enter the land of the elves in the last half of the first book. I have forgotten who said it.

In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shone than in the estrangement that divides all those who still fear him.

It’s a line worth remembering.

It was true in Jeremiah’s time.

It was true in Jesus’ time.

It is true today.

It is important to remember that this is the case. From the beginning of the story in Genesis he is known as both liar and deceiver. He offers false and deceptive formation. He actively promotes hatred, anger, envy, dissension, lies, half-truths, alienation, etc., etc., etc. He benefits from it all because in division of whatever sort his purpose is achieved, and that purpose is to keep men separated from God.

We may say we oppose him.

We may claim to deny him.

We may even work to defeat him.

But, unless we are aware of his methods and purpose, he still has power.

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