(Apologies that I’m posting this on the very day you may be hearing these verses read in church. Brye was on time but I’ve been overseas till today.)
Signpost for Sunday, 15th September 2013: Jer.4:1-12, 22-28; 1 Tim.1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
All respectable biblical commentators agree that Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul) did not write the two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus, so I’ll pass on to the shepherd and the housewife.
If you went, like me, to Sunday School in your youth, you probably remember seeing a picture or two of a tall good-looking man in a long robe standing straight up holding in his right hand a long staff with a curly hook on the top end. He might have been a bishop ready to enter his cathedral, except that he hasn’t got any shoes on, and the headgear is different. His left hand is grasping the forelegs of a young sheep slung round his neck.
I want to say to more than one or two famous artists who painted it, “Sorry chaps, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.” When the shepherd gets back with a happy grin for his mates, the drying mud will be up to his knees, his over-coat will be tucked up into his belt, his hair will be all over the place, and the blood will be oozing from the scratches from the prickles on the bushes that the sheep had managed to get caught in.
It reminds me of a story the Bishop of Stepney (East London) told when he was promoted. He was walking along a slum street, and saw a young boy building something with the mud in the gutter. He stopped to ask what the boy had built. “It’s a feedrul, see,” was the answer, so he asked where was the bishop to go in the cathedral then? “Ain’t got nuff muck fer a bishop.”
I think artists would find a picture of a housewife grovelling on a dusty floor and happily waving a shilling in one hand and a happy grin on her face, a very unattractive subject. So we’ll just leave her there.
Which leaves us with Jeremiah.
Jeremiah felt that he was very close to God (1:4-19) and most of the rest of the book is written with that as a “given” or “taken for granted”. I have a vague recollection of that feeling seventy-one years ago, when I was in a little choir learning to sing the parts of the communion service that aren’t chanted by the priest in the Orthodox Church. Every time Matt. 5:3-12 turns up I want to sing it, and remember the feeling.
When I was turning the pages (backwards!) to today’s reading, my eye caught on verse 20:7, translated in my bible as “you have seduced me, Yahweh…” and I wanted to read on, and came to verse 14 and the next five, and thought it looked as if Jeremiah suffered the “up and down” mental disease. It’s got a proper name, but I can’t call it up just now.
Our reading today (4:1-12, 22-28) is definitely a “down”, but it’s Jahweh’s message that’s down. Jeremiah isn’t letting his own feelings show. If you read 13-21 as well, you’ll get a stronger “feeling of Jahweh”. I’m looking forward to more of Jeremiah in the Sundays ahead.