From the Daily Office Lectionary for Tuesday in the week of Proper 23, Year 1 (Pentecost 20, 2015)
Jeremiah 36:32 ~ Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the secretary Baruch son of Neriah, who wrote on it at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the scroll that King Jehoiakim of Judah had burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them.
A second draft. That’s what this story is about . . . not a willingly done second draft, but one necessitated by the reader’s destruction of the first. Jeremiah had written (or, rather, dictated) his words of prophecy and delivered them to the king, who tore the scroll into pieces and burnt them. So Jeremiah does it again, and then some! “Many similar words were added!”
I would guess that prophets didn’t write second drafts very often. They got their words from God, wrote them down (or dictated them to hapless secretaries like Baruch), delivered the product to the intended audience, and that was that. The rest of us are not so fortunate, at least I’m not. I write plenty of second drafts, and third, and fourth.
Seldom do I write something down and call it done. There is always room for improvement, even if there isn’t always time to make the improvements. I often find myself editing sermons on the fly – jotting something in the margin just before the worship service, scratching through a line and adding another, ad-libbing an additional thought. I also find myself looking back a few days after preaching, thinking “I could have, should have, ought to have, might have . . .” That’s not second drafting, however; that’s second guessing.
Second guessing looks back and tries to improve on something that has already had an effect, and that’s what has happened between Jeremiah and the king. The prophet wrote, the king reacted (by burning the scroll), now the prophet is writing again. How many of those “many similar words [which] were added” got added because Jeremiah had had more to say to begin with and how many were added because Jeremiah is now hoping for a different result? We’ll never know.
This is why second (and other later) drafts are necessary. Most writers and preachers don’t get a chance to second guess ourselves, so all we can do is second draft, and third draft, and fourth draft, and . . . until the final product is presented and then it’s done. That’s best, too. Better to second draft than to second guess.