The book of Baruch, attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, is a work of the Jewish community in Exile (not in the Protestant Bible). These verses make their appearance in the Rite of Penance not as a reading, but as the featured “psalm” in the first example of a form II liturgy (RP 51).
A lovely passage from Baruch is offered as an Easter Vigil reading. Unless you do all nine readings, you probably don’t hear it. It’s a fairly short book, if you’ve never encountered it.
After an introduction, there is a lengthy penitential prayer (1:15 through 3:8) from which this song is derived. The antiphon is Baruch 3:2:
Listen and have pity, Lord, because you are merciful.
And the verses are as follows:
Justice is with the Lord, our God;
and we today are flushed with shame,
that we have sinned in the Lord’s sight
and disobeyed him.
We have neither heeded the voice of the Lord, our God,
nor followed the precepts which the Lord set before us.
We have been disobedient to the Lord, our God,
and only too ready to disregard his voice.
We did not heed
the voice of the Lord, our God,
But each one of us went off after the devices of our own wicked hearts,
and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God.
If you compare with the RNAB text, you’ll notice that verses 16 and 20 have been excised. Still, we get the message as the Jews in Exile did: we were unfaithful, therefore paid the consequences.
As a liturgical passage, there is another context–namely the readings surrounding this passage. The Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy precedes, setting the tone for following God’s laws. Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians (5:1-14) to imitate God follows. The Gospel options are two: the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) or the “new commandment” from the LAst Supper narrative of John’s Gospel.
It’s interesting and rather creative that the framers of the Rite of Penance would give us a progressive narrative of salvation history. In this nutshell, we recount the Law, the disobedience from the Law, the urging to imitate God with love, including love of neighbor–and all this sends us forward into the celebration of the sacrament.
So I have an issue with this notion of God’s direct punishment. It’s a struggle for many of us: I know. I also know of many virtuous people who have been beset with the sins of others cascading into their lives. And by all appearances, many unjust people seem to skip along free and easy.
On the other hand, I also believe in consequences for acts foolish, inattentive, sinful, or whatever. My daughter drops and breaks her phone. There is not an instant replacement at hand, as there might be for a friend of wealthy parents. Is her sin, then, carelessness or is it being adopted into a middle-class family with a tight budget?
That said, I see the Exile as both a tragedy for the Jewish nation, but also an opportunity for growth, reflection, and creativity. The Jews in Diaspora produced the book of Baruch, as well as many other fine works of inspired Scripture. Do we just confess before God, accept the basic situation in life, and make the best of it? The vector of Scripture, and of salvation history would charge us with attaching ourselves to the love and saving power of God. For Christians, that embrace of Jesus Christ–that is how we encounter God’s love most profoundly. And of the experiences of Christ, we have the sacraments. Including Penance.
In Penance, we bare our souls before the Lord. And we can count on his open ear. And his generous mercy.