Cracked Cisterns – A reflection on Jeremiah for Today

It has been quite a few months since we celebrated the Platinum Jubilee last June. Two monarchs, three Prime Ministers, several cabinet reshuffles and all against the backdrop of war in Ukraine, rising energy costs and general economic and environmental upheaval. Where may you ask is God in all this? How can we still hold onto a faith when the world at large seems to be going to hell in a handcart? Perhaps this reflection on Jeremiah 2: 4-13 may offer some clues.

“Hear the word of the Lord” – this is God’s call for Israel to listen. The Lord asks, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far away from me and became worthless? It’s a familiar refrain throughout scripture from the Prophets to the Gospels. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah among the prophets take to rebuking those who fail to proclaim the Lord’s words, declaring them false prophets who utter false prophecies in the hope that the Israelites will reject the Lord’s word. Jesus says something similar in Matt 15 vs 8-9 where he says, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrine.”

God through Jeremiah tells the people of Israel that he brought them into the land of plenty, but they defiled it by seeking those things which were not as profitable as they first thought. In vs 9 he says, “I accuse you and I accuse your children’s children”, the successive generations who continue to defile the bounty God gave freely, by exploiting it and to worship only earthly things, a far different form of glory to what God expected.

Today we see the parallels in our post-modern world by our treatment of our environment as well as the poor and marginalised. We see God and his truth replaced by even more rampant materialism and blind allegiance to market forces aided by a media, which can now seemingly topple prime ministers and chancellors with whom they disagree. While there are some who do strive to do the right thing, our prevailing culture ensures it remains largely hidden from sight or even mocked and denigrated just for daring to show compassion to the vulnerable.

We now find ourselves as described in verse 13 continuing to commit the same two evils much as the Israelites did then by firstly; forsaking the fountain of living water by which God sustains life and instead, digging for ourselves leaky cisterns; structures which have no solid foundation, and eventually decay and crumble leaving a stench which pervades everything around it and is increasingly hard to eradicate.

We are still fed a constant image of an alternative world which although beyond the reach of most of us and not sustainable in the longer term encourages us to desire more material things. Bigger houses, better cars, latest electronic gadgets and the latest fashions (which are mostly old fashions given a twenty year make-over). Shopping malls have become the new go-to places of worship, shop assistants are the new spiritual advisors and the chip and pin machines the new collection plates.

We are still enthralled by the cult of celebrity even if the “real” ones we once knew have one by one departed this earth. Where politicians and royalty are known by their first names only – even our new king, and where the plotlines of soaps on tv offer a “reality” which for many of us never existed or ever will. When I see tv trailers announcing the next tragic soap death, I am often moved to reflect that the bigger tragedy is they don’t kill the whole lot off and have done with it!

We have forgotten what God has provided as a mark of his love for us. He heard the cry of the Israelites in Egypt, released them from their bondage but they eventually reneged. We too cry out to God when we are in distress; when we find the false prophecies and promises of our post-modern world are not as fulfilling or profitable as we were led to believe, indeed quite the opposite.

But we who believe know that God does actually hear our prayers; we know that God answers our prayers although not always as we would like them to be answered; but like the Israelites, we still say thank you for relieving the immediate burdens but then before you know it revert to old habits.

Will we ever learn??