Here we have a prophetic gorilla theater on full display. Jeremiah wears a yoke in the public space at God’s request. The message is clear, Judah and the nations will come under foot of Babylon. Enter Hananiah. Hananiah is one whom we have been warned about by the Lord. He is a false prophet calling Jeremiah’s message fake news. He counters Jeremiah’s narrative by symbolic action breaking the yoke. His messages proclaims a mild view of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. Having supposedly won the day, he settles into his routine as the people’s prophet.
Hananiah’s wrongful message has dire consequences. Countering the softened message of a short lived defeat, Jeremiah tells the truth, hard as it might be, that judgement comes by way of Babylon. In addition, Hananiah will not survive the year. Hananiah’s bad theology kills. How foreign to our contemporary ears! Too often preachers and self ordained prophets alike proclaim a Gospel that mimics the promises of God, without thought to what it might do to their people or to themselves. God’s provision for life, manipulates into God’s desire for you to be wealthy. God’s willingness to hear and answer your prayers, manipulates into empty prayers for empty things like parking spaces and discounts on cheap goods. Or worse, God will protect the faithful that gather to worship, so do not worry about wearing a mask.
Wrong thinking contributes to wrong behavior, just as wrong behavior contributes to wrong thinking. Jeremiah warns us weigh the words we use. Those in leadership have been trusted with the message of life, use it for such, and live.
Our sin and immoral choices does not make God look good. That’s Paul’s point. The counter point goes something like this…look at how sinful I was and continue to be so, but look how good God is for loving me and forgiving me. I sin, God forgives. The subtle message is, “I make God look good.”
Paul will take us to the limits of grace in the rest of Romans, but makes clear in this passage that our salvation from sin and death does not free us to continue in sin. Rather, we are to come out of the realm of sin and death, and into the realm of life and peace in Christ. As you now live for Christ, do so not at church only but in your work, in your home, and in your leisure. Using God’s grace as an excuse to not feel guilty about actively planning to swindle your partners OR to have an affair OR vote for an immoral candidate, doesn’t work for Paul or for God. Strive for the life that is at peace with God, one another, and self.