Memory of the Church

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I am the good shepherd,
my sheep listen to my voice,
and they become
one flock and one fold.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Jeremiah 34, 1-22

The word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his whole army, with all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples, were waging war on Jerusalem and all its towns,

'Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, "Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, Yahweh says this: I am going to hand this city over to the power of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down.

And you yourself will not escape his clutches but will certainly be captured and handed over to him. You will see the king of Babylon face to face and speak to him personally. Then you will go to Babylon.

Even so, listen to the word of Yahweh, Zedekiah king of Judah! This is what Yahweh says about you: You will not die by the sword;

you will die in peace. And as spices were burnt for your ancestors, the kings who in times past preceded you, so spices will be burnt for you and a dirge sung for you: Alas for his highness! I have spoken, Yahweh declares." '

The prophet Jeremiah repeated all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem,

while the army of the king of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and all such towns of Judah as still held out, namely Lachish and Azekah, these being the only fortified towns of Judah remaining.

The word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to issue a proclamation freeing their slaves:

each man was to free his Hebrew slaves, men and women, no one was any longer to keep a brother Judaean in slavery.

All the chief men and all the people who had entered into the covenant had agreed that everyone should free his slaves, men or women, and no longer keep them as slaves: they had agreed on this and set them free.

Afterwards, however, they changed their minds, recovered the slaves, men and women, whom they had set free, and reduced them to slavery again.

The word of Yahweh came then to Jeremiah as follows,

'Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, "I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; it said:

At the end of seven years each one of you is to free his brother Hebrew who has sold himself to you: he may be your slave for six years, then you must send him away free. But your ancestors did not listen to me and would not pay attention.

Now, today you repented and did what pleases me by proclaiming freedom for your neighbour; you made a covenant before me in the Temple that bears my name.

And then you changed your minds and, profaning my name, each of you has recovered his slaves, men and women, whom you had sent away free to live their own lives, and has forced them to become your slaves again."

'So Yahweh says this: "You have disobeyed me, by failing to grant freedom to brother and neighbour. Very well, I in my turn, Yahweh declares, shall leave sword, famine and plague free to deal with you and I shall make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

As for the people who have broken my covenant, who have not observed the terms of the covenant which they made before me, I shall treat them like the calf that people cut in two to pass between its pieces.

The chief men of Judah and Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the country people who have passed between the pieces of the calf,

I shall hand over to their enemies and those determined to kill them, and their corpses will be food for the birds of the sky and the animals of earth.

As for Zedekiah king of Judah and his chief men, I shall hand them to their enemies, to those determined to kill them, and to the army of the king of Babylon which has just withdrawn.

Listen, I shall give the order, Yahweh declares, and bring them back to this city to attack it and capture it and burn it down. And I shall make an uninhabited waste of the towns of Judah." '


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The episode of the slaves who are freed and then returned to captivity shows how persistent injustice is. Even in the last stages of the siege of Jerusalem those who had often trodden on the rights of God and of their neighbour did not change their ways. The wealthy turn back on their word, despite the divine law and the king’s decree. Zedekiah, the king, had ordered that all Hebrew slaves were to be freed in accordance with the law of the Lord: “Every seventh year each of you must set free any Hebrews who have been sold to you and have served you for six years; you must set them free from your service” (v. 14, referencing Ex 21:2). This law, which was almost never put into practice, is seen as a sign of obedience to the Word of the Lord. It is not right that a person without economic resources would be forced to sell himself as a slave to his fellow Hebrew to whom he owed money. It is not right for the poor to have to “sell” their dignity to get help. Freedom, that is, the ability to become a friend to another person, is a sign of our shared humanity. The people of Jerusalem had even made a pact with God, in the temple itself, with the Lord as their witness. Their words had become sacred, and therefore sure and steadfast. But the power of greed is great, and those slave-owners changed their minds. The male and female slaved had to return to their masters, because they went back on their earlier decision. Evil has great power among people: justice was mocked, even though it had been established by the king, the name of the Lord was profaned, and his Word was cast into contempt. In a world dominated by money, greed can even make people forget the dignity of the many men and women who fall prey to the interests of those who are stronger than they are. This is why the Lord Jesus warns, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6: 24). True freedom means freeing ourselves from the slavery of money and putting ourselves at the service of God and humanity.