When I read the first Reading from Jeremiah 33 a few minutes ago, I made a slight alteration to the translation. In our English Standard Version, verse sixteen reads like this: “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which IT will be called: ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” But when I read it, I said, “This is the name by which SHE will be called: ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” I substituted the pronoun “she” for “it”.
I did not arbitrarily make this change for no reason. In the Hebrew language, the pronoun is “she”. “She” is also the reading in the King James and New King James, as well as the American standard and new American standard versions.
On the other hand, the New International, Revised Standard Version, as well as our ESV, have “it” instead of “she”.
Now, grammatically speaking, a feminine pronoun does not necessarily mean that we are talking about a “she”. “It” is sometimes appropriate. In verse sixteen, it is not so much that “she” is correct and “it” is incorrect. But I used a literal translation to highlight the perhaps overlooked and perhaps startling point of the verse.
Here is this point: The one who is called “The LORD our righteousness” is not the righteous Branch who springs up for David. No, it is Jerusalem who is called by that name.
This may be startling because you may recall Jeremiah 23 (which was read just this Sunday) where it says, “HE will be called, “The LORD our righteousness.” So the Branch seems to be the one called by this name. That would make sense, and it is what we would expect, because the Branch is the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the Holy One of God, the Son of the Father. Certainly it is easy to see how He would be called by the name, “The LORD our righteousness.”
However, even in Jeremiah 23 the name is ambiguous. It could be referring to the Branch, or it could be referring to Israel.
In Jeremiah 33 it is not uncertain at all. It is definitely not the Branch. It is Jerusalem who receives the sacred and wondrous name, “The LORD our righteousness.”
Here Jeremiah is speaking forth the great mystery of the holy Church. She is the one who is cleansed and holy before her God. She is righteous, not with her own righteousness, but that of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament era, this was no less true than it is now. The true Israel was not a people determined by birth, nor was it a physical location. In the same way, the true, spiritual Jerusalem was not the earthly city, nor was it even the same as the people who lived in that place. The true Jerusalem was all those who trusted in the promise of the Branch to come, who would sprout from the line of David to save His people from their sins.
Today it is the same. All who have faith by the gift of the Holy Spirit are the true Jerusalem. You are members of that glorious people, since you were called by God in Christ and washed in holy water. In that Baptism, He placed His holy name upon you. You are His. You are covered with His righteousness that He earned by thirty years of perfect obedience and by the death of the Cross for you.
So you are called “The LORD our righteousness.” This sounds grandiose and prideful. How dare you wear such a pretentious name? Yet you did not claim that name for yourself. It was given to you as a gift by the Branch, Jesus Christ. He earned it by His great labors on your behalf. Therefore He is able to give His righteousness to whomever He desires, and it has pleased Him to give it to you.
He earned it by being born out of a devastated house. The family of David had become little else than peasants blending into the people around them. A poor couple struggling even to find enough space to deliver a Child; was this the royal house and lineage of King David? Even more astonishing, was this the holy Branch, the Son of God, full of grace and truth?
This is the birth He chose. This is the way He determined it was best. We struggle to understand, and sometimes we glimpse the glory of His humility. He made Himself lowly for us. He could not be born in the flower of David’s royal dynasty. He had to be born when David’s royalty was only a memory. That is how the Branch had to sprout.
So He came to execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. His judgment is His justice against sinners, all those who have defied Him and rejected His royal kingship. All those who would not tolerate or receive His grace poured out with His lifeblood will receive instead death. That is His judgment against sinners.
But you are not counted among sinners, although you have surely sinned much every day. No, you are covered with the exact righteousness of the holy Branch. That is what His righteousness is – the goodness and rightness and innocence declared by God upon sinners upon whom His favor rests. You are His beloved, chosen ones. You are His spiritual Judah, His brothers and sisters of the same tribe, not by birth but by adoption. You are the ones destined for eternal salvation and safety in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. For where else would the righteous people live except the home of righteousness?
Therefore, let us trust this promise of Him who has already come. He, the Branch, was nailed to a Tree, so that we dead branches could be grafted onto Him and receive His life. So we are alive forever, in Him.
All glory be to Him alone, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
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