Jeremiah 7:23-28 (NRSVCE)
But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did.
So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.
The agreement between God and man was that He would be our God, if only we would be His people. We were to follow Him. We were to obey. But we refused. Time and again, we refused. Whenever we began to walk down the path of righteousness, whenever God would set us aright by the words of His prophets or the messages of His angels, we would turn and look back to our old ways. Like Lot’s wife, we love our old ways more than we love God, and so we are always looking over our shoulder.
But it’s more than that. Here we are told that it’s not just a pattern of disobedience. It actually got worse. We became MORE indignant in our disobedience, more beholden to our own ways, and more resistant to the hand of God which is there to lead us. It became so bad that eventually we weren’t only disobeying, but we killed God’s only Son. That’s the level to which we will go to avoid giving up our own ways, to avoid the path of righteousness. We brand God as the enemy of righteousness, and put God on a cross. The words in Jeremiah are not for the ancient nation of Israel only. They speak directly to us. It is we who worshiped the golden calf. It is we who sought to return to slavery in Egypt rather than walk the path to the Promised Land. It is we who condemned John the Baptist. It is we who crucified Christ.
We do all of this today, in our hearts and by our actions. We selfishly put ourselves at the center of our lives, when our lives ought to center on God. We stubbornly refuse to give up the hedonistic lives we have built for ourselves, like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. And when a neighbor tries to correct us, we attack him. How dare he suggest that we are not righteous! We are far more righteous than he can ever know! I mean, just look at me, and how righteous I am! We are like the Pharisees. We have fooled ourselves and those around us into thinking our foolishness and wickedness is righteous. We don’t see the truth of our sin. For us, truth has perished.
God sends His servants, and His prophets. Even today, they are all around us, speaking the words of the Lord, calling us to return to the path that leads to God. We have made a habit of ignoring them, of opposing them, even violently sometimes. But God is merciful. And in His mercy, He gives us the grace we need to turn away from our sin. He empowers us to walk the path and not look back. All we need to do is walk. All we need to do is to listen to the words of our shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who says: