29 December 2014

Jeremiah 31:15-17

“Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (v. 15)

Psalm: Psalm 124


Today the Church remembers the Holy Innocents. Matthew's Gospel tells us that in his anger at the news that a rival had been born, Herod slaughtered all male children under the age of two in the Bethlehem area (Matthew 2:16-18). Today's passage is quoted in Matthew's Gospel as a graphic description of the pain caused by Herod's senseless violence.

Rachel was the wife of the patriarch Jacob (or Israel). Her children were Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24) and Benjamin (Genesis 33:16-26), so she was not literally the mother of all twelve tribes. However Jeremiah, in this chapter, refers to all the people of Israel by the name Ephraim who was Joseph's son (and therefore Rachel's grandchild) so that might explain her appearance at this point. Reconstructing the family tree may not be helpful; what Jeremiah's prophecy is designed to convey is the horror of the exile of the people of Judaea when their country was conquered by the Babylonians and many were dragged off into captivity. The poignant image of a woman weeping for her lost children whom she will never see again effectively captures the agony of the moment.

This passage is not only about the pain of exile. Rachel is commanded to dry her tears because the desolation will not last forever. The second part of the reading is a promise of restoration; the lost children will return. As so often, Jeremiah who expresses the fall of Jerusalem reluctantly and eloquently is also the prophet of a hopeful future.

To Ponder

  • Television news bulletins and newspapers will often show images of a weeping mother to convey the horror of the deaths of children in war or disease. Why is this such an effective picture?
  • Many of those pictures are from other cultures. Is lamenting in public something that we see in Great Britain? If not, why do you think that is?
  • This oracle speaks of God hearing a person's pain and responding with a promise of hope. Can you think of a time when you have been able to offer comfort to someone who was grieving their loss? What made that comfort effective?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..