Many times the focus on Lent is, “What do I give up for Lent?” Most will answer with responses like, “I have given up eating meat;” “I have given up eating chocolate;” . . . and so on and so forth. It seems rather petty, as if God cares about our craving for meat and chocolate, etc.
The Jeremiah text makes it clear that God’s emphasis is elsewhere. He is more concerned about whether we really “hear” his voice or not. The word “hear,” “do not hear” is repeated over and over again, just in Jeremiah 11 alone- “Hear the words of this Covenant” (Jer. 11:2, 3, 6); “Hear my voice” (Jer. 11:4, 7); “But, you/they did not hear.” (Jer. 11: 8, 10). Of course, they heard. But, in reality they did not hear. It was pseudo-hearing. Instead, they fed upon the hearing of their own thoughts, and on thoughts, which were inimical to the voice of God.
The consequence of drowning out the voice of God among the leaders and the people, was the decision to kill Jeremiah. He exclaims, “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; “ (Jer. 11:19). The religious leaders devised schemes against him saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living.” (Jer. 11:19). This is eerily similar to what happened to the Messiah Jesus, hundreds of years later!
In John 8, Jesus exclaims the same thought as in Jeremiah 11. He says to the religious leaders of his time, “You are determined to kill me . . . Why is my language not clear to you? Because you do not hear my word.” (John 8:43). He goes on to lament, “He who truly belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47).
Sometimes I wonder, whether the focus on Lent should not be on what we eat or not eat, but rather on whether we hear or not hear the voice of God. The more we hear the voice of God, the more we will fall in love with him. The more we starve the voice of God, and hear our own voice, and the voices of others, the more we distance ourselves from God.
May we commit ourselves today to truly HEAR the voice of Jesus during these days of Lent!
Rev. Dr. R. Boaz Johnson, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies