Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Defaming the motherland

This man must die,
for he has spoken against the City…
Jeremiah 26: 11

 Today’s readings present us with the challenge the prophets give to all those in power.

Jeremiah has attacked the complacency and idolatry of the religious leaders, who trust in their power and fail to turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

John the Baptist has attacked the power and lechery of Herod. The Gospels connect John’s death with his illicit union with his brother’s wife; Flavius Josephus suggested that Herod feared that John’s preaching would provoke a rebellion.

The prophets threaten the status quo; they threaten the idolatry of the powers that be. As Fr. Dan Berrigan, S.J., puts it, they “defame the motherland.”

But how often do we Christians put our trust in the nation state or in our status as “good Christians” or “good Americans”? These are all too easy temptations?

Where does our real allegiance lie?

In whom do we really trust?

And, are we really willing to challenge the Powers that be?

 

 

going after strange gods

Jeremiah is brutal in today’s lectionary reading (7: 1-11). He refuses to let the people rely on their public worship, their beautiful temple.

Instead he lays out their wrong doing and calls them to amend their ways:

 Do not abuse the stranger, orphan, or widow,
or shed innocent blood in this place,
or follow strange gods…
But you trust in deceptive and useless words.
You steal, kill, take the wife of your neighbor;
you swear falsely and follow strange gods…

Dan Berrigan notes that this is not a mere listing of sins:

 Each catalogue of crimes ends, in fact, with the name of the greatest of crime: idolatry.
…idolatry permeates every misdeed. There are unjust toward one another, taking base advantage of widows and orphans, even killing the innocent… Such behavior already implies… “worshipping false gods.”

What might Jeremiah say today?

I think that he would list the rejection of the migrant, especially the children, as well as the killing of civilians in Gaza, as well as – to a lesser extent – in Israel. He would look at the lack of compassion toward the poor and rail against this abuse.

But he would also ask us to look at the strange gods that lead us to such actions.

What are these strange gods?

For this we need a national examination of conscience, not just asking what evil we have done but what gods we worship.

I propose we look at a few possible false gods – wealth, power, nationalism, consumerism. All of these, I believe, flow from a lack of trust in a God who calls us to mercy and compassion. It flows from a fear that we might have to lay these gods aside, these gods that promise an easy life – in order to live a good life.

A good life is a life serving the God of compassion, the Father of orphans, widows, and the stranger.

This is not a God who kills strangers, who tells the migrant to go home, who erects walls and borders.

The Lord is a God who finds ways to welcome others – even ourselves – so that we may live as people of mercy.

 

Missing what is there

Remember the wonders the Lord has done…
Psalm 105: 5

 It’s so easy to miss what is around us or, worse, defile what is beautiful and a gift from God.

As I read today’s lectionary reading from Jeremiah 2, I was struck by two image he used to show how the people – we – have lost our way and misused the gifts of God.

The images are meant to speak of the infidelity of the people, their – our – turning aside from the God of life to things, idols, that bring death.

But Jeremiah used images from nature that speak not only of our infidelity of God but of the ways we devastate creation.

Verse 7:

I brought you to a fertile land to eat of the choicest fruit. As soon as you came, you defiled the land and dishonored my heritage! (Christian Community Bible translation)

I brought you to this country of farm land,
to enjoy its fruit and its bounty;
but you came and defiled My land,
you made My possession abhorrent.
(Tanakh translation)

Verse 13:

For my people have done two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, to dig for themselves leaking cisterns that hold no water.

God has given us fertile land, farm land, and living waters, but so often we look for something that is merely the work of our hands – forgetting the wonders around us – or worse, abusing them, not caring for them.

Jeremiah calls us to turn to God, the fount of living waters, to conversion. I also think he might be reminding us to see, love, and care for the good earth and the pools of living water around us.

Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to verse 13 this year since I went with members of one village to test the quality of their water source, a source for theirs and two other villages. The source was contaminated with bacterial and fecal matter. They, nevertheless, have non-contaminated water in their homes, since they chlorinate the water in their community tank. The other communities, though, are drinking contaminated water – since they had not chlorinated the water in their tank.

The challenge of Jeremiah

“I am too young.”
Jeremiah 1: 6

 Today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah (1: 1, 4-10) has often been used to encourage young people to participate in the church, to assume leadership roles, to take public prophetic stands. “Your age doesn’t matter, “ we might say.

But this morning, as I read Daniel Berrigan’s commentary on this passage, in Jeremiah: The World, the Wound of God,” I began to wonder whether we have missed something.

God is asking Jeremiah to be a prophet, which will mean announcing destruction and the overthrow of the city, as well as a call to build and to plant. More than enough to make any one hesitate.

His call, though, is not just something God just thought of at the last moment. As Dan Berrigan writes:

What a predicament; what a harsh announcement! It falls, a bolt from the blue:
“Before I formed you,… before you were born,… I appointed you.”

Isn’t that too much for anyone?

As Berrigan remarks,

 Jeremiah can only protest: “I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.” Does he protest too much, as some have claimed? No matter his age, the sense goes deeper. Who, at any stage of life, issued such a summons, would not feel callow, inept, a stutterer?

Do I take God’s call too blithely? Do I recognize the seriousness of being a prophet? – Aren’t we all called to be prophets, in some way? Do I underestimate the challenge?

Jeremiah was realistic. He knew his words would not be heeded. But he spoke forth, reassured by God.

As Berrigan continues:

    The word in all its integrity, be it understood, is one thing — its reception quite another. So must the speaker of the word stand and withstand, more often than not, alone, a guardian, a lonely sentinel of the truth. Regardless of outcome.
Such understanding, entering the soul’s fiber and weaving it anew, gives rise to marvelous images of strength. Jeremiah “Will be like a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall.” Which is to say: as possessor of the truth, possessed by the truth, your strength surpasses that of all the others—“kings, priests, and the people.” A bit much —

A bit much – but maybe our calling.