Every year there is a strange, albeit short-lived, fascination with the first child born in the New Year. Every local paper has a picture or article mentioning the baby born just after midnight while people around the city embrace, kiss, and toast the upcoming year.
This year, some brave American family should name their son or daughter Jeremiah, because Jeremiah is exactly what America needs.
Jeremiah started his prophetic ministry during Josiah’s reign. Josiah “found” a book of the law and started all of these great reforms that were associated with obedience and favorable ways of relating to YWHW. The religious cult was enforced, idols obliterated, all of the things that had previously added up to financial success and military safety for the Israelites. And Jeremiah, like any good prophet would, loved it. He was giving Josiah fist bumps and talking about all these good figs and their reforms that YHWH would love. Israel seemed pretty safe and faithful and Jerusalem probably looked something like Leave it to Beaver: black and white, cute, well-groomed lawns, looking safe and secure.
But, the Persian Empire wasn’t paying attention to Israelite reforms and after Josiah died, and the Persian troops were knocking on the door, Jeremiah (speaking directly for YHWH, mind you) changed his tune. “Oh, well, you know… the good figs are those that will get sent away. YHWH likes to send people into exile, it’s part of his plan.” Jeremiah basically undid everything that the Israelites knew and had been told and experienced: namely, that if you are obedient to YHWH you will be safe and blessed. Now, they had been faithful to the covenant and were still being sucker-punched by the Persians. Jeremiah deftly explains it away by promising a future hope after a long and painful exile. He flips his metaphor, explaining that YHWH has a plan to prosper the good figs, those sent into exile (most likely referring to the Davidic line sent away in 587 BCE). This isn’t all excuses, of course, this, for better or worse, is another step towards universalism in the Israelite religion; worshipping YHWH becomes more personal, available to outsiders, possible outside of Jerusalem.
The prevailing wisdom found over here in the US of A is that hard work, a puritan ethic, will pay off, everyone should get their hands on what is “rightfully” theirs and not worry about others. It is an individualistic, capitalistic ideal that is never questioned, blessed by the God of Christianity, and “proven” successful by the economic wealth stockpiled by the red, white and blue. Churches and politicians of all leanings uphold this system. But, as we now know, the free market wasn’t worried about our faithful hard work, God’s blessing of commodification, our past experiences with the power of the almighty dollar. The free market came on in and sent our leaders into exile, removed folks from their homes, and finally stripped humanity of value apart from production.
Much like the economic and religious reversal that Jeremiah communicated and lead for ancient Israel, American Christians need a prophet propelling them into a new covenant, a new understanding of God and economics. We need a young Jeremiah to grow up and lead through the popular reforms of a President about to take office that will assuredly not go far enough as our economy continues to sputter. We need our Jeremiah to introduce us to socialism.