By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“The time will come when I will make a new convenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the Old Covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant. The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it in their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the LORD have spoken.” — Jeremiah 31:31-33
I joined millions of people all over the world in watching the television coverage of the inaugural activities of the 44th president of the most powerful nation on earth. US President Barack H. Obama made history as the first African American that ever occupied the White House – a physical structure built out of the sweat, blood, and tears of African American slaves. His inaugural celebration was indeed heart warming. Millions of people all over the US braved the freezing temperature and gathered together at the Western side of the Capitol Hill in Washington DC fronting the Lincoln Memorial to witness history in the making. According to some analysts, the number of people present during the celebration was the biggest so far in any presidential inauguration in recent American history.
Raising his right hand and placing his left on top of the old Lincoln Bible, the new US President took his oath of office and made a new covenant before God and before his people to uphold the American Constitution as well as the enduring virtues of freedom, justice, and equality, for which their founding parents had lived and died. The formal installation of President Obama symbolized the rekindling of hope amidst a world that is experiencing the worst financial crisis ever since the economic depression in the 1930’s. It is interesting to note that not only Americans but people all over the world are pinning their hopes in President Barack Obama.
President Obama’s inaugural speech reminded us of the lofty ideals of American leaders, like Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, who led the American nation to the heights of greatness. It brought to mind the long and painful struggle of African American against the forces of racism and to realize the dream of equality before the law as enshrined in the famous “I Have a Dream” speech of the great African American civil rights leader and man of God, Martin Luther King, Jr. The famous Negroes Spiritual entitled, “We Shall Overcome” speaks of the African Americans’ deep conviction that no matter how difficult the journey might be, “we shall overcome someday.” President Obama has been envisioning that his leadership will bring about genuine change in the American way of life.
All these things would remind us of a nagging truth leaders of nations, past and present, tend to forget, that the greatness of a nation does not depend upon its wealth nor the strength of its army, but rather in the courage and determination of its people inspired by their leaders to uphold the ideals of genuine freedom, justice, and equality. As the Book of Proverbs says, “Righteousness makes a nation great; sin is a disgrace to any nation” (14:34).
Prophet Jeremiah had seen this truth in the history of Judah a long time ago. He was called to be a prophet of Yahweh at the time when Judah was a vassal kingdom of the Assyrian Empire and later on became a colony of the Babylonian Empire. He warned the leaders and people of Judah not to rely on false security. They thought they could easily defeat the Babylonians, because they believed God was with them as in the past. But Jeremiah insisted that God was no longer with them, because they had been unfaithful to God’s commandments; and if ever they would fight the Babylonians, they will be defeated and their nation will be destroyed.
Prophet Jeremiah preached to them in the Temple and said, “Look, you put your trust in deceitful words. You steal, murder, commit adultery, tell lies under oath, offer sacrifices to Baal, and worship gods that you had not known before. You do these things I hate, and then you come and stand in my presence, in my own Temple and say, “We are safe!” Do you think that my Temple is a hiding place for robbers? I have seen what you are doing” (Jer. 7:8-11).
Thus, Prophet Jeremiah called on them to change their ways: “Change the way you are living and stop doing the things you are doing. Be fair in your treatment of one another. Stop taking advantage of aliens, orphans, and widows. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop worshipping other gods, for that will destroy you. If you change, I will let you go on living here in the land which I gave your ancestors as a permanent possession” (Jer. 7:5-7). For Jeremiah it is the peoples’ obedience and faithfulness to God’s laws, not military strength or economic power that would bring success to a nation.
But the leaders and people of Judah did not listen to Jeremiah. Instead, they persecuted him, jailed, and tortured him, and accused him of being a collaborator of the enemy. And so, they fought the Babylonians, and true enough their nation was destroyed and their leaders were carried away to Babylon as captives.
Message of hope
Nevertheless, Prophet Jeremiah spoke of a message of hope – that God will make a new beginning, a new covenant of hope with the people of Judah. Thus, the LORD said, “The time will come when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the Old Covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant. The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. None of them will have to teach a neighbour to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the LORD, have spoken” (Jer. 31:31-33).
Barack Obama’s oath of office as president of the world’s only superpower is a new covenant of hope not only with the American people, but with the people of the world, especially those who are struggling for genuine freedom, justice, and equality. It is our hope and prayer that President Obama will indeed become a catalyst of genuine change, not only in the US, but in the whole world. #