Jeremiah VIII – Hope

February 1, 2017

A contemporary of Mary Baker Eddy, the New England poet Emily Dickinson, wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Years later, Mrs. Eddy would write the poem “Mother’s Evening Prayer” which has this stanza:  “O make me glad for every scalding tear, / For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!”  The phrase “hope deferred” matches this quote from Proverbs:  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov 13:12).

“Hope deferred” certainly seems to be a term we could use to describe our current global unrest, whether it is disappointed refugees or citizens disillusioned by the government or frustrated with the media. A helpful article in praying about hope to heal divisions is “When family ties are tested,” which included two definitions for “deferred hope”:

A dictionary reference pointed out that the verb “to defer” has two distinct meanings. One is “to put off to a future time, to postpone.” The second is “to submit to the opinion, wishes, or decision of another.” Some of the synonyms for this second meaning are “yield, submit, surrender, entrust.”

Ah, the light was beginning to dawn. My hopes for a happier family could sadly be postponed for a future date, relegated to the realm of someday possibilities. Or I could submit all my personal hopes and expectations for good to a loving Father-Mother, God, who created us and governs His creation every moment. I could yield my preconceived story lines and plots. I could surrender my timetable for when and how things should be accomplished. I could entrust myself, my family, my cat, to God, knowing that omnipresent Good governs all of us, always.

Each day, I choose the latter. For me, “hope deferred” no longer implies waiting until cherished hopes are realized or postponing good. “Hope deferred” has become a time of active yielding to the divine (Earleen Bailey, Christian Science Sentinel, June 27, 2005).

A few years ago, I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German Lutheran pastor active in the German resistance (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas). He became engaged to a young woman shortly before being imprisoned, and then a few weeks before the end of World War II, he was executed by the Nazis.  I remember thinking that the romance must have felt like a sign of hope for the future in a war-torn country.  Or at least, that is the connection I made when I read about Jeremiah buying a field while sitting in prison with Jerusalem at war. It was an orderly business transaction in the midst of disorder. It was hope.

In the readings, Israel is referred to as “Ephraim, my firstborn” (Jer. 31:9). Ephraim was blessed by Jacob as Joseph’s first born son, although he was the last born.  Reversing the birth order reminded me of Jesus’ words that the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:30). Then I began thinking of all the other symbols that Jesus reversed: the burdensome yoke and the yoke which was easy; the unclean leaven of the Pharisees, and the treasured leaven of the woman baking bread. It is like a hidden blessing to call Israel “Ephraim” because it is acknowledging that God blesses the reverse order of the physical senses.

Here are some notes on Jeremiah from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 31:18 – Ephraim, the more powerful of the Joseph tribes, and therefore representative of all Israel (the north).

Jeremiah 32: God’s restoration of Israel. These chapters are thematically linked to the “Book of Consolation” and so are included here, even though they should follow ch 34 chronologically; they are dated to the very end of there reign of Zedekiah and of the Babylonian siege (588-586 BCE), during which Jeremiah was in confinement.

Jer. 32.1-44 centers on the theme that “fields shall be bought. . .and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed” using Jeremiah’s offer of redeeming family property in Anathoth as a sign. . . .During a brief lifting of the siege, Jeremiah tried to leave the city, was accused of desertion, and was arrested. 4: Chaldeans, i.e., Babylonians. 7: Right of redemption, to keep property within the extended family, members who could do so were expected to “redeem” land that was in jeopardy of being forfeited or sold outside the family. 9: Seventeen shekels, 7 oz. At this time there was no coinage, and “money” was weighed in. 11: sealed deed. . .open copy, contracts were sealed with a signet ring on a clay “bulla,” but a copy or summary of the contents was left available on the outside of the scroll for reference and public scrutiny. Storage of such documents in clay jars was common practice. 12: Baruch, son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe.

Lamentations 3:29 – Put one’s mouth to the dust, accept God’s discipline submissively.