The book of Jeremiah is a book filled with judgement and hope. There is great injustice and the leaders have lost sight of what’s really important but they are very comfortable. Jeremiah has a word from God that challenges the leaders to turn back to God.
In Jeremiah 36:1-28 we read the story of the scroll being read in the royal court. Jeremiah cannot read it because he has been banned so he dictates to his scribe Baruch who delivers the scroll to the court. As the scroll is being read, the king has it burned. The king doesn’t want to hear the words of the scroll. It is winter (maybe not as cold as our winter but damp and cold for that part of the world). Imagine most people with minimal housing and heat and here is the king lounging in his winter apartment with a blazing fire. He is enjoying his luxury. The scroll that Jeremiah dictated is one of judgement. The king enjoys luxury while others starve and freeze. The most vulnerable in the land are being ignored. This goes against the commands handed down from Moses and previous prophets. The king doesn’t want to hear this and so he burns the scroll—hoping that the words will disappear.
Many of have privilege by virtue of who we are. I enjoy privilege because I am a white Canadian and my family has been here several generations. I am well-educated and literate. In my lifetime, my family has never been what I would call poor and I have full-time work. All of these things give me privilege within our society. It would be fairly easy and much more comfortable to avoid people who are different from myself or who are more vulnerable. It is easy to turn a blind eye when we meet someone asking for change on a street corner.
The king wanted to ignore Jeremiah’s message of compassion for the most vulnerable and the implication that he had something to do with their poverty and hardship. The king’s abuse of privilege is at the expense of others and because of his lack of concern for the most vulnerable he will not be able to continue as king and the entire country will be destroyed.
Sometimes it is tempting to destroy the evidence that convicts us of not being compassionate enough or of viewing the world too narrowly. This passage describes one of the first “book burnings” as a way of eliminating the message. We’ve seen other times in history where books and writings have been burned or banned as a way of keeping people from hearing a message. In the long-term, the message still finds a way through. The king burned the message and the message was re-written so that it was not lost.
The message was re-written on a scroll. But the Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us that this message is not just going to be written on paper but on our hearts. Paper can be destroyed but once love and compassion and a commitment to God’s justice is in our hearts, it cannot be erased or destroyed. It is a permanent reminder of who we are called to be in the world. It is a permanent reminder that injustice cannot win out. In scripture the king was destroyed. The country and the temple were destroyed. Even Babylon, the evil empire was destroyed but God’s commitment and promise to the people was not destroyed.
God’s message to care for the most vulnerable cannot be destroyed because it is always written within us as part of our hope and our vision for a world reborn and love made real.