THOMAS M. RAITT
When texts from Jeremiah that appear in the lectionary passages are
read in conjunction with the accompanying New Testament texts,
Jeremiah functions anew as an interpreter of God's Word, providing
illumination unavailable to an interpretation of the passages taken by
A quite different portrait of Jeremiah emerges from the aggregate of the Jeremiah passages in the lectionary than the one in the previous three essays in this book. The historical-literary critical legitimacy of this lectionary portrait is subordinated to the fact that when Christians worship they necessarily act out a Christian identity. That will inevitably lead to reading Jeremiah through the light of Christian experience and New Testament revelation.
When one tries to understand why lectionaries select from Jeremiah what they do, one must come to terms with the anomaly that lectionaries are not uch interested in prophetic writings in general. By far the most heavily used prophetic book in the lectionaries is Isaiah, and it sets the tone for the use of other prophetic material. This helps to explain why two of the lectionary selections of the eleven from Jeremiah, which have been almost universally judged as late additions by source critics (23:1-6; 33:14-16), are utilized. They are messianic predictions and thus expand on the Isaianic trend. Another passage, 31:7-9, also doubtful as stemming from Jeremiah himself, puts us in the optimistic era of deliverance after bondage in the Babylonian exile, like the latter parts of Isaiah.
Of the remaining Jeremiah lections, six deal not with his message but with his life. It is with these passages that we come to the heart of the Christian appropriation of Jeremiah into the life of the Christian believer and the early church. The four of these which are autobiographical, Jeremiah's so-called “laments,” are, at worst, sub-Christian expressions of vengeance, self-righteousness, and bitterness about the sacrifices involved in filling the prophetic vocation. At their best these four show that being a messenger of Gods word is a difficult calling and that often the last thing people want to hear is the