God’s Fine Print

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11
This American Life Episode 433 Fine Print (2011)

A prophet, unlike a genius, does not really know anything new. A genius can figure something out; something that has not been thought of before. A prophet just knows what God tells him or her. It is not really new knowledge, rather just divine knowledge that tends to be forgotten.

Jeremiah hears a call from God and pays a visit to a potter. The work of a potter was not unknown to the people. A potter remaking his or her work because the first did not come out just right is not unusual; that’s what a potter does. And, this is what Jeremiah sees. Something not uncommon yet full of God’s word and message for God’s people. Jeremiah is not any different than any other person who looks at the potter and the work the potter does. Jeremiah, however, sees a bit more into it. It is like Jeremiah sees the same document that everyone has but he actually reads the fine print in the document. When, he reads the fine print, he then finds greater knowledge, useful and reassuring to the people.

Episode 433 of This American Life, Fine Print, revolves about those small, hard to read statements that can me make or break any situation. Ira Glass starts out with a common story about Van Halen and their request for a bowl of M&Ms containing absolutely no brown pieces. At first, this sounds like an absurd request by an entitled group of rock stars. Yet, as Ira discusses the story, he finds out that the request for no brown M&Ms actually serves a much bigger purpose. Van Halen puts on a large production requiring precise set ups and regulations. If any of these details are ignored, electric equipment might falter or someone could get hurt on stage. The band would put the request of M&Ms to know if the promoters were reading the entire contract to make sure the requirements needed to ensure a proper and safe performance are considered. The band knew that if the bowl of M&Ms contained brown pieces, someone did not read the contract carefully. This contract was not a secret document yet it was not a document that everyone paid careful attention to. Reading carefully into it definitely proved to have benefits.

Jeremiah looks at God’s fine print where he finds that God reassures God’s people by taking the place of a potter. Just like a potter has the ability to shape and reshape a piece of clay until the desired product takes form, so can God shape and reshape God’s people based on how they behave. In the Van Halen story above, the contract read that if any portion of the demands were not met, the band would be fully compensated, even if they do not perform. And so, it becomes essential to carefully pay attention to what the fine print says. Similarly, paying attention to God’s fine print is essential as the people know that God can change God’s mind and God’s plan, especially to avoid any consequences stemming from wrong doing.

The other stories from this episode of This American Life carry the same moral: paying attention to the small print has benefits. Act I tells the story of a man purchasing prescription medication using a discount card from the drug’s manufacturers. He saves money with the discount when he purchases the brand name over the generic kind. However, he doesn’t know all the details of the transactions and can potentially pay more in insurance premiums if he continues to use the discount program instead of buying generic. And, Act II is the terms for a mother to stay in her son’s house so that they can avoid huge family conflicts they have experienced before. In these stories, the message remains that fine prints can have a huge impact, and knowing those fine prints can help avoid disastrous situations later.

In the case of Jeremiah, knowing God’s fine print can help God’s people. While God might be the same, this passage reveals that God’s will is not absolutely fixed. God’s fine print states the conditions of actions and consequences. Just because you thought you’d be safe does not mean you’ll remain safe if you indulge in wrong doing. Just the same, if you were involved in wrong doing, it does not mean you will pay the consequences if you move away from the wrong doing. Of course, not knowing these conditions can lead people to continue doing whatever they do without paying attention to later consequences.

We are reminded of situations like the one experienced by the Ninivites who were spared once they listened to God’s word through the message of Jonah. With Jeremiah, we have a similar message of blessing and redemption. The people, however, do not know about this blessing unless they pay attention to what God says in the fine print. Sometimes, it takes someone like Jeremiah to read and understand that fine print. In turn, Jeremiah lets God’s people know what the stipulations are so that the people can act accordingly. If the promoter understands carefully the contract, he or she will do everything stipulated, including the bowl of M&Ms without the brown pieces, to ensure the band plays their show properly and safely. If God’s people know that God’s will can change according to the people’s attitude and actions, then the people can act accordingly.

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