By Pastor Katherine Olson
This weekend’s reading from Jeremiah (36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28) describes the prophet’s clash with a disobedient king named Jehoiakim. When I first learned of the Scripture passage appointed for this weekend, my first thought was “Jehoia-who?” Most of you probably share my reaction – so for those of you who might like a refresher on ancient kings of Judah, read on.
At the Lord’s command, Jeremiah had his scribe Baruch write down the content of his prophetic preaching on a scroll, and then ordered him to take that scroll into the temple for a public reading (since Jeremiah was no longer welcome inside). Baruch carried out his duties, the scroll was read in the hearing of the people, and then the king’s cabinet members decided that Jehoiakim ought to also hear the words that called the wayward nation to repentance and posited a challenge to the status quo.
The scene then shifts to a chamber inside the palace walls – the king cozies up next to a fire in his luxurious winter apartment and hears the words which threaten his job security. As his servant read the scroll aloud, the king ripped shreds of the scroll off with a penknife and tossed each word, column by column, into the blazing fire.
Professor Roger Nam observes: “King Jehoiakim’s response, though deplorable, is not surprising in that the destruction of prophetic words is natural for a ruler who is both paranoid and massively self absorbed….(but) instead of eliminating the word of God, Jeremiah 36 shows that it is more powerful and lasting than the actions of a narcissistic king. The words of Jeremiah continue to find power two millennia later. King Jehoiakim is merely a footnote as a disobedient king.” Jehoia-who indeed!
Upon reading Nam’s observation about Jehoiakim’s “paranoid, massively self-absorbed, narcissistic, and disobedient” temperament, I smirked: “Gee, we wouldn’t have any political leaders like that in our world today, would we?” Yes, like many citizens in our country I’m still smarting from the events of a bitter political season. But my sense of smug contempt was soon tempered by another thought: “There’s a little king (queen?) that exists within my own heart…I possess all those same qualities too.”
I’m still working on my sermon for this weekend, but if you come to church, you’ll hear something like this: in Jesus Christ, we have an entirely different King, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Exalted by the Father, he has also promised the riches of his kingdom to poor sinners like the criminal hanging on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), sinners like you and me.
Let us pray. King Jesus, obliterate the disobedience, sin, and selfishness that exists in our hearts by the fire of your Holy Spirit. Remember us in your kingdom, which, unlike all earthly powers, shall reign forever and ever. Amen.