25th June 2017
The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah displays a common pattern in the experiences of all humans when they are intending to do their best and what they think is right. In this 7th century BC this prophet really feels the call from God to try to bring the people – all people – back into a good relationship with a loving God and to preach with severity and reproach against the poor behaviour of his people. It seems almost natural that they oppose him more and more as he upbraids them – and Jeremiah had a really tough time. But he earnestly wants to believe that God will see him alright in the end, will put his accuses to shame; he has faith yet it is shot through with human weakness for he hopes and expects that God will ‘get His own back’ on these miscreants … Jeremiah hopes for revenge! The best of us will still get things wrong about God and His ways.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wants to express the central beliefs he has as a follower of Christ. In this brief extract we see evidence of his Jewish education, in that he sees the story of Adam in the bible in two ways: it is about the temptation of the first man to do what is forbidden, the giving-in to this lure and the consequent expulsion from the happy situation in the garden of Eden for himself and for the whole human race that descended from him; but it also sees Adam as a representation of the general human condition, the fact that all of us will be tempted, will give in to temptation and in consequence suffer some sort of alienation from reality and our true selves. Sin is not just breaking a rule, but falling short of the sort of human one could and ought to be. However, Jesus is the man who has reversed this situation for everyone (which is the import of his phrase “for many”).
The extract from Matthew that is today’s gospel reading comes after Jesus has been telling his followers that they will face persecution but will be loved by God, whatever people do to them that is hurtful. Jesus says that all will be made clear and will make sense in the end. It is strange that Matthew uses terms like body and soul, because this way of seeing a person was that of the Greek culture whereas Matthew is generally more influenced by Jewish teaching in which this distinction isn’t made – but his audience would be Diaspora Jews. But we should have reverential fear for God, though He loves all his creation especially humans. This whole passage might give us an insight into some of the difficulties Jesus’ followers might be having at the time Matthew is writing – after the destruction of the Temple about 70 AD.