My Dear People,
Today we read from Jeremiah. The previous chapters announced the exile to come, and come it did, because of the kings’ failure to keep the Covenant. The kings, in chronological order, were the subject of the various oracles. Now Jeremiah, looking to the future, uses the image of shepherds to proclaim a new era in which God himself will be the shepherd-ruler of his people; he will raise up a new king who will govern justly; and the new situation that will develop after the return from exile will be more glorious than that of the period after the exodus from Egypt.
John Paul II refers to this oracle to stress that the new people of God, the Church, will always have pastors to guide it: In these words from the prophet Jeremiah, God promises his people that he will never leave them without shepherds to gather them together and guide them: “I will set shepherds over my sheep who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed.” The Church, the people of God, constantly experience the reality of this prophetic message and continue joyfully to thank God for it. They know that Jesus Christ himself is the living supreme and definitive fulfillment of God’s promise: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). He, “the great shepherd of the sheep,” entrusted to the apostles, his successors, the ministry of shepherding God’s flock.
The promise of the new king is the key to understanding Jeremiah’s thought. The passage is repeated in 33:15-16. “The days are coming,” a phrase often found in the oracles of salvation, is a reference to the End time, but sometimes it can mean the return from exile. The “righteous branch,” meaning the future king, will eventually become a technical term for the Messiah, in both Zechariah and the New Testament. (cf. Lk 1:78: he is “righteous,” he shall “execute …righteousness” and he will be called “the Lord is our righteousness.” All this insistence on justice and right indicates, firstly, that Jeremiah wants to justify the accession of Zedekiah, whose name means “justice of the Lord”; but he also wants to show that the future Messiah will be David’s legal, legitimate descendant: the Lord guarantees this by calling him a “righteous,” that is “legitimate,” branch. And the main message, of course, is that in the new era justice will reign and there will be peace and security: it will be the time of definitive salvation.
Thus, Jeremiah is proclaiming the coming of a descendant of David who will bring about a new era of prosperity and salvation. Jeremiah is the last prophet, in order of time, to proclaim a Messiah King, an intermediary between God and his people. At the same time, he is also promising direct intervention by God.
This Wednesday is the Feast of St. James, the patron saint of the church. The Mission Santiago is celebrating the feast on that day July 25th in the evening, at 6:30 PM.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente