2nd Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
“What Seems Good and Right”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the First Lesson from Jeremiah 26.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
A farmer once went into his banker and announced that he had bad news and good news. Given the option, the banker wanted the bad news first. “Well,” said the farmer, “I can’t make my mortgage payments. And that crop loan I’ve taken out for the past 10 years — I can’t pay that off, either. I also won’t be able to pay you the couple of hundred thousand I still have outstanding on my tractors. So I’m going to have to give up the farm and turn it all over to you for whatever you can get for it.” Silence prevailed and then the banker finally said, “What’s the good news?” “The good news is,” said the farmer, “that I’m going to keep on banking with you.”
From the time we were little children, our parents have warned us about looking deeper into words spoken or actions performed. “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” “Never take something at face value.” They told us these things because sometimes what seems like good news really isn’t. Sometimes what looks like a curse is actually a blessing in disguise. The point is that often times what seems good and right really isn’t, and what may seem wrong is really right after all!
Take today’s First Lesson as a classic example. Jeremiah has been told by God at the beginning of chapter 26 to go into the Temple and tell everyone exactly what he says and “do not omit a word” (26:2). And so Jeremiah does. He stands in the Temple and tells the people that if they do not repent of their evil ways and stop doing what is evil, God would make Jerusalem to be like the house of Shiloh.
Why is that so bad? Shiloh was a city north of Jerusalem about the same distance between Sarasota and Anna Maria Island (20 miles). Shiloh was the chief northern shrine for the people of Israel before they chose Saul as their king. This was a major holy site! Upon entering the land of Canaan the Israelites sent up the Tent of Meeting at Shiloh (Jos. 18:1). The Ark of the Covenant was kept there (1 Sam. 4:3). But Shiloh did not keep its status. God abandoned Shiloh (Psa. 78:60) and, as a result, it was destroyed; wiped clean off the map never to be used for worship of God again. Outwardly the actions of the people at Shiloh must have appeared “good and right,” but due to their evilness, God’s glory left that place and today the city of Shiloh no longer exists.
Now you can see why the people of the Temple were so mad at Jeremiah! The demise of Shiloh was a warning to Jerusalem of the fate about to befall it, and the people didn’t want to hear that, so they thought it best to kill Jeremiah. And Jeremiah’s defense was to tell them they should do “what seemed good and right” to them.
That’s interesting, because it was exactly what seemed “good and right” to them that brought Jeremiah to them in the first place! Jeremiah was sent to them because what they thought was “good and right” was actually “bad and wrong” in the eyes of God! Jeremiah had been sent to them to expose their sin and to declare to them God’s impending wrath for their sinfulness.
But that is what makes the ministry of a prophet so dangerous. No one likes to hear they are wrong. No one wants to hear their ways are incorrect. The difficulty of delivering this kind of message has not diminished from the 6th century BC to the 21st century AD! People still don’t want their sins revealed; to see the error of their ways pointed out by someone else.
Knowing this full well, God still sent another prophet – the ultimate prophet – to announce what was truly “good and right.” He too stood trial before the people for things that he said. The trial of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, was strikingly similar to the trial of Jeremiah, only with a different outcome. Jesus too was brought before the temple authorities to account for what he had said. When Jesus was asked “Are you the Christ?,” He answered “I am. In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”(Matt. 26:64). Jesus announced He is the Messiah and called them all to repentance in the face of coming judgment. And the people didn’t want to hear that. How dare he call himself the Son of Man! How dare he claim to be the Messiah! For this he deserves death!
The fact is, Jesus didn’t deserve death, but instead he chose death. He chose to endure suffering and death at the hands of those who didn’t know what was truly “good and right;” instead they thought they knew what was “best” for themselves and for the people. Jesus, though, submitted to punishment and death – neither of which he deserved – to bring forgiveness, renewal, and his Spirit, so that we as God’s forgiven people, can gratefully know what really and truly is “good and right.”
Thankfully, Jesus continues to offer himself to us, for he knows what is truly “good and right” while we continue to stumble on the way thinking we know what is best. For example, in the 2003 film “Bruce Almighty” the main character Bruce is given God’s power for a short period. He really struggles with prayer because there are so many of them to hear and answer. Finally, out of frustration, Bruce just says “yes” to all, which results in utter chaos. People lose 50 pounds on all-doughnut diets. Tens of thousands of people win the lottery. The lowly Buffalo Sabers win the Stanley Cup! After things have been fixed, Bruce tells God that he “just gave them what they wanted” to which God replies “since when do people know what they want?”
That’s true. Even though we stand on this side of the cross and resurrection, we still think we know what is “good and right,” but so often times we are wrong, dead wrong. And in those times Jesus comes again to remind us of what is truly good and right. He comes to us in his Sacraments to provide that forgiveness we so badly need. He comes to us in his Word reminding us again and again of his expectations: love our enemies, do good to our neighbor, love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, serve him and serve him only.
In Matthew 19 a rich man approached Jesus and they had the following exchange: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments” (v. 16-17). Thanks be to God that we still can enter life, even if we can’t keep the Commandments as Jesus said, for by his death we have forgiveness of sins and the promise of everlasting life. I challenge you to find something as “good and right” as that.