Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22
Psalm 102:16-21, 29, 22-23
We see such a contrast between the beginning of the first reading and the end. It begins with “no healing for you” and ends with “I will restore the tents of Jacob.” This means that there is no healing now, but there will be healing in the future. God has begun to punish Jerusalem, and he will not hold back his punishment. For 70 years, the people of Jerusalem will have to suffer the punishment that he sends, but the day will come when the punishment is ended.
If God immediately removed the punishment as soon as the people asked him to, it would be a sort of game. As soon as the enemy was at the gates, the people could repent of their sins, and God would have to send the enemy away. Actually, this would be fine. God would send the enemy away if the people would repent of their sins, but repentance does not come easily to a people who are unused to it. As soon as the enemy had left, they would begin to sin again. The repentance would only be a matter of words. True repentance is not so easily accomplished.
True repentance is all any parent wants to see. No matter what crime their child has committed, the punishment will be removed if there is true repentance. But no parent is willing to be played like a fool. To cancel every punishment at an insincere apology will teach the child all the wrong lessons. It would be wonderful, of course, if every offense were just a mere misunderstanding and a conversation could take the place of punishment, but this kind of parenting exists only in the imagination of non-parents. Sometimes children are disobedient liars. Why? Because we humans, ever since that fruit, have been disobedient liars. The threat of a punishment that is never carried out is useless. We will always be seeking second-chances, and soon we will plan our actions know that second-chances are cheap.
So God does punish Jerusalem for their sins, but he points beyond the punishment to hope. He has not stopped loving his people. He still intends that “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.” The punishment is to make them better. And it works. The Jews came back from exile with a far deeper understanding of religion than they had before.