It is a text that drives fear and despair into the heart of every preacher and spiritual teacher…. or, at least it should.

It is not that Jeremiah 31:34 is so difficult to understand or explain. God’s words spoken through the prophet are all too clear. The implications are obvious. And that is the problem.

In Jeremiah 31:34, God suggests, there is no longer any need for preachers. Spiritual teachers should resign, give up their salaries and retire to the golf course. Well that’s not quite what he says, but the implication is pretty clear.

A new covenant has been inaugurated by the Creator of all and in this New Deal,

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’. (Jeremiah 31:34)

What has God done that makes teachers redundant?

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts… they shall all know me from the least to the greatest. (Jeremiah 31:33b, 34b)

The knowledge we seek in preachers, teachers, and spiritual directors, guides or counselors, is not “out there;” it is “in here.” The wisdom and truth for which we long is encoded in the DNA of the human heart.

Jesus, in his own version of Jeremiah’s bold declaration responded to the Pharisees’ question about “when the kingdom of God was coming”, saying,

‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within (entos – “within”, “inside”) you.’ (Luke 17:20,21)

Everything you need resides within your innermost being. There is no external authority or power that can impart to you the deep spiritual wisdom, truth and light for which your heart longs.

In Buddhist tradition Linji the Zen master and founder of  the Rinzai sect, captured the wisdom of the teaching of Jesus and Jeremiah in his simple and justly famous koan when he said,

If you meet the Buddha, kill him.

Do not become dependent upon external authority.

Jesus made the same point when he was approached by a ruler who asked,

‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 

Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. (Luke 19:19, 20)

In case we missed the point, Jesus made it explicit when he said,

you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. (Matthew 23:8-10)

Frank Sinclair captured the wisdom of this understanding in the title he gave his account of his own spiritual journey that was carried on outside any mainline established religious tradition. He called his book, Without Benefit of Clergy.

Only trust that which you find within. Follow the truth that is authenticated by your genuine life experience and by the inner authentic voice of truth that speaks within. When you hear it, you know the sound of this voice that speaks truly in your deepest being.

Much of our lives has caused us to ignore, deny, or fall deaf to the inner voice of truth. We have been taught to heed the wisdom of external authority, expectation, and demand to the detriment of the truth that is written on our hearts. Forward movement on the Way comes to those who learn to take responsibility for listening deeply to the innermost whisper of the Spirit Who speaks in the heart.