1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 10-13
The “Confession of Jeremiah” reflects the interior dialogue of a prophet who gave his life as an authentic witness to God. Jeremiah suffered at the hands of his own colleagues. He was in great turmoil because he believed God ill-equipped him for his mission. He felt inadequate – that he was not up to the impossible task at hand. He felt duped and angry. Yet he knew that God had called him to the prophetic life. He was confident that the Lord remains faithful to those who are faithful to him. We are all invited into Jeremiah’s trusting hymn of grateful praise (Birmingham, W&W for Yr A, p. 429).
Jeremiah turns to God in prayer when he is overwhelmed and full of emotion, as most prophets do. Margaret Guenther in The Practice of Prayer says, “I enjoy listening to prophets when they say I like to hear (that is, when their target is someone other than me), but I prefer to tune them out when they threaten my comfort. Prophets can expect to be unpopular, to be opposed and even killed if they persist in their candor,” (p. 36). Consider the 2 men who were killed in Portland, OR when they tried to stop an anti-Muslim rant. Their deaths saved the lives of the 2 women being bullied. They are modern day prophets for us in their actions.
Who are our persecutors? Does God give us strength in times of struggle? How do you feel the Lord with you? What helps us persist in trusting the Lord?
2nd Reading: Romans 5: 12-15
When trying to understand Paul here, it is important to understand the Jewish notion of “corporate personality” – sort of like our modern idea of an ecosystem in which everything in that system is mutually interdependent. Paul is talking about the social effects of evil – death coming to all of us as we have sinned “in Adam.” This does not mean that Adam introduced into human life a hereditary trait that is henceforth transmitted biologically. It is more that we have all sinned in Adam because we have all sinned like Adam. Adam is that insecure, false, needy self that we are all like without Christ.
Death is also not to be seen in some crude mechanical way as a punishment for sin. The awful death that Paul is talking about is separation from God; such separation is sin, a turning away from the very source of life. Physical death is a biological inevitability in an imperfect world – but it is also the final revelation of our utter aloneness before the forces of life and death. Without Christ, we are hopeless. But Paul is reassuring us that God’s grace is much greater than our sin, our separation. With faith in Christ, we can overcome the chasm . . .
From Celebration, June, 2002 and R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu.
Sin can come in through a very small door – a moment of vanity, a selfish choice, an avoidance of compassion. It doesn’t take much energy. Sin can seem so easy; the failure to love can be ‘second nature’ to us – but it is our ‘false nature.’ Our first nature is to love and be loved. We can become insensitive, insecure, walking around in a fog of self-centeredness. But Jesus offers us another way – another door – a door wide enough to bring in love and life. Sin may give us many excuses to say no, but love makes us yearn to say yes. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 1999)
The Gospel: Matthew 10: 26-33
In Matthew 10: 16, Jesus says, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” Jesus knew that the way of discipleship is and was a very countercultural way of life. Yet, in today’s passage he also assures us of God’s loving concern with every aspect of our being – even the hairs on our heads. The problem may be with us. We hold records of everything that can and does go wrong with our frail mortality. We cling to our insecurity and worry, instead of living fully a life of faith and hope. But when we begin to speak the truth of God’s love, its certainty grows in us. When we act on this truth, we are brought into Christ’s marvelous light.
(Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 1999)
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), a professor at the Union Theological Union in New York once wrote: “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable; and most of all, fear put hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.” (Celebration, June, 2002)
Sparrows are what bird-watchers call ‘junk birds’ – birds so plentiful that them seem uninteresting, unworthy of much attention. But Jesus assures us that God cares for such things – and even cares for us unworthy humans. Jesus urges
1st Reading – Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19
Jeremiah is the Rodney Dangerfield of prophets, the man who invented the tradition that a prophet doesn’t “get any respect” in his own country. Jeremiah, during his long career as a prophet in Judah, faced a mob that demanded he be put to death; was whipped and put in stocks (20:2); was beaten and thrown into prison for ‘a long time’ (37:15); was thrown into a cistern with mud up to his armpits and left to starve (38:6); and was kept under house arrest (39:15). After the fall of Jerusalem, he wound up in Egypt where, according to tradition, his own people stoned him to death.
Jeremiah did not walk around with a smile button on his shirt. “Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!” (15:10) Yet he carried out his mission with intensity. He always moved from anger and reproach to hope (US Catholic, Kenneth Guentert). Compare this with our upcoming Gospel reading. How might you move from anger to hope with the troubles in your life?
During Jeremiah’s ministry of 45 years, the world changed dramatically. When he began, Assyria was still the world’s greatest power (Northern and Southern Kingdoms have separated), but by the time he died in exile in Egypt, Babylon stood supreme (Boadt, L. Reading the Old Testament, 363). When there is division and chaos, it is often hard to be sure of what the right course of action is…Jeremiah had his work cut out for him!
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12: 31- 13: 13
Re-read this passage replacing the word “love’ for ‘God’. How does it change for you?
From M. Birmingham, W&W, p. 355:
Paul’s community was experiencing internal strife and division. Some people (gnostics: matter bad/spirit good, Jesus not really human so no real suffering or physical resurrection), glorifying in their own manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, had set themselves apart as the spiritual elite. Because of their self-righteous, emotional, and overt display of charisms, Paul wrote to them to remind them that God was the Giver of gifts and no one had reason to boast. Paul asserted that the gifts were for the uplifting of the community, not for personal edification. The gifts meant nothing if love was absent. He asserts that self-giving love toward one another should be the response of every member of the community. This passage is often read and preached during nuptial celebrations, but it has an ecclesial importance. The church is a community of love.
The Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
Jesus shocks and surprises the people of his hometown of Nazareth; has God ever surprised – shocked you? How does this gospel strike you? – challenge you?
Jesus, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, challenged people with an alternative to the reality of their lives. Jesus was certainly not a politician, as we see here in this passage. The good news that Jesus came to share is always good and always new, but not always comfortable. It would seem that Jesus would have been wiser to have quit while he was ahead. Rather, he pushed on to an inclusive message that ‘forced’ choices that were disturbing. That is what prophets do. This hometown crowd is angered to hear that Jesus will share blessings and wonders with others – even Gentiles. Apparently, they took this ‘good news’ for others as bad news for themselves. (Living Liturgy, p. 50 – 51)
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”:
Remember: no one in Jesus’ culture was expected to improve on the lot of the parents. One was expected to safeguard the family’s honor. In today’s reading Jesus is seen by others in his village to be stepping shamefully beyond his family boundaries. Then Jesus seems to rub salt into the wound by his insulting behavior — preaching in his hometown and healing elsewhere. He does not minister to his own – but they have heard of him doing things in Capernaum, a place that was noted for having many Gentiles – people who were not of his own kind. To direct his healing activities to such a place rather than his own hometown and blood relatives was to transgress very seriously against family honor. Honor in the Mediterranean world was a matter of life and death.
3 themes found in Luke’s Gospel
- World Affirmation: God loves creation; God values and works in human culture and activities.
- The Great Reversal: The gospel challenges the status quo, affirming those who have been rejected and abused.
- Universal Salvation: Human values are reversed, not for punishing the wicked, but for saving the lost, poor, sick, downtrodden.
(taken from The Gospel of Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, p.21-23)
The scriptures call us to see simply this: the trouble with fences and boxes is that God is never in them!” (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)
It was Jesus’ habit to go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day. There must have been many things with which He radically disagreed and which grated on Him – yet He went. The worship of the Synagogue might be far from perfect; yet Jesus never omitted to join Himself to God’s worshipping people on God’s day (Barclay, Gospel of Luke, 45).
The 1st Reading – Jeremiah 31: 7-9
This is a reading of compassion at a time of exile and hardship.
What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘remnant’? The thesaurus lists these ideas: remainder, relic, leftover, residue, trace, vestige, scrap, end . . .
Yet, in Hebrew scriptures this remnant was the few and the faithful who would survive because of their faith in the Lord. They are a ‘motley lot’ but they journey with a God who loves them and who cares for them like a father for his first-born.
This ‘remnant of the needy’ shows us a spirituality that has learned to depend on God for survival and salvation. They were in need and disadvantaged: blind, lame – mothers and mothers-to-be – without husbands. They needed God’s consolation and guidance – and each other’s support. This is a constant theme that echoes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Ps. 34:6; Sirach 21:15).It is meant to challenge all of us: if God is so concerned for the needy, how can God’s people be otherwise? (Preaching Resources, October, 2003)
Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, but he received the blessing of the first born from Jacob instead of Manasseh. Jacob crossed his hands so his right hand was blessing Ephraim instead. Ephraim is one of the tribes of Israel (another name for Jacob), but he represents all of Israel in this reading. How does this prepare us for the gospel?
The 2nd Reading – Hebrews 5: 1-6
Who is Melchizedek? See Genesis 14: 17-20. Melchizedek means ‘king of Salem [peace] and priest of the Most High’. He embodied ‘mysteriousness’ since he seemed to have no history – no family or lineage. Thus, he also stood for a priest with no limits of time and space; he offered bread and wine and blessed Abraham in the name of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth, who delivered him from his foes. He seemed to transcend history with an eternal connection to this God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus comes ‘in the line of Melchizedek”. (Birmingham, W& W, 696)
From Bishop Matthew Clark’s Forward in Hope:
Vatican Council II affirmed that pastors have the “duty to shepherd the faithful and recognize their ministries and charisms so that all, according to their proper roles, may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart” (LG, 30). For from Christ “the whole body, being close joined and knit together through every joint of the system, according to the functioning in due measure of each single part derives its increase to the building of itself in love” (Eph 4:16). We are all called through our baptism to be priest, prophet and king. Like Melchizedek offered bread and wine as an offering to God, so we offer ourselves and our own gifts in order to fulfill the whole body of Christ.
The Gospel — Mark 10: 46-52
In what ways can Jesus help you to see?
This gospel is at the end of chapter 10; chapter 11 is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. This whole ‘journey-section’ is sandwiched between stories of the cure of two blind men — the blind man from Bethsaida (Mark 8: 22) and this story of Bartimaeus (‘son of the unclean’ is perhaps the meaning of the Hebrew words). Between these two stories of blindness we find the three passion predictions, each one followed by graphically embarrassing stories of the disciples’ blindness as they fail to understand Jesus’ mission. Take some time to look over this section of Mark’s gospel and pray with it this week. (Living Liturgy, 2003, 233)
*Notice the contrast between the disciples of last week along with the story of the rich man who ‘saw so well’ that he had kept the law perfectly. Note also how Jesus asks the same question of both Bartimaeus and James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” The answers are in sharp contrast showing us what true discipleship is – and what it is not . . . Jericho was the last stop for a pilgrim on the way to Jerusalem.
At the outskirts of this ‘suburb’ there would be a throng of beggars hoping to receive alms from those who are going up to the Temple. Bartimaeus jumps up quickly and readily lets go of his ‘cloak’ when Jesus calls. (The cloak was the only means of support for a blind man: he would spread it on the ground and use it to catch the coins that were thrown his way. It was also his only cover against the cold, wind and rain.) Bartimaeus – without possessions or ambition – asks for sight. When he receives it, he follows Jesus on the way – which as we see in the very next section is the way to Jerusalem and to the cross. (Birmingham, W&W, 698-700)
What is this faith that has saved Bartimaeus? Observe how this ‘faith’ is acted out: Bartimaeus heard Jesus, cried out to him, persisted in his prayer, came to Jesus when called, spoke boldly of his need, and when he finally ‘sees,’ he follows Jesus with the crowd down the road to Jerusalem . . . Bartimaeus gives us a blueprint for being a true disciple. (Living Liturgy, B, 232)
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6
How does God punish evil? By focusing more on the good! Instead of striking down the evil doers, God promises that he will gather ALL of his flock and they shall multiply. None shall be missing!
And who is the righteous shoot of David but Jesus Christ. This type of writing in the Bible is considered typology. “typology is seen as a method by which Old Testament events are seen as types or figures of the work of Christ; more than that, it reflects a theological understanding of salvation as enacted and revealed in history,” (Medieval Liturgy, Mayeski, 63). Events are fulfilled in Christ. Right now, Christ continues to fulfill these things in the Church. Where do you see this? How do we live in security and justice today?
Jeremiah speaks out against the kings of Israel who have traditionally been seen as shepherds to God’s people. Their power was to protect and guide their people, not to destroy and use them. Needless to say, Jeremiah was not popular among these corrupt kings. He suffered greatly (and not silently either!) Jeremiah spoke about the sheep being scattered across the land – the people were exiled. Israel sinned and was unfaithful to the covenant. (Birmingham, W&W, 575) What scatters and drives us away from God?
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2: 13-18
Peace is a many-splendored word! The Hebrew word, shalom, has a rich meaning of fullness of goodness, completeness, perfection. Peace is not about mere prosperity – an essential component of peace is righteousness. Where there is no righteousness, there is no genuine peace. Jesus brings us this kind of peace. (Dictionary of the Bible, John McKenzie, S.J., 651)
“that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two”…what do you think that means? Paul indirectly refers to Trinity, that Jesus the Son and the Father are united and later on, that “we both have access in one Spirit to the Father”. Who is we? We are the Gentiles and the Jews, together equal and both offered this peace that only Jesus can provide. We are invited to have a relationship like that of Trinity. God wants to be one with all of us. That is true peace.
Also consider Paul’s language of who is near and far. Think of those who are near and far from you, especially this summer when there is so much travel. It is good to go away but there is always an ache to be together again! How are you near and far from God?
The Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
This gospel is very carefully structured. We need to pay close attention to the order that Mark has given us. At the beginning of this 6th chapter, Jesus goes home to Nazareth but is rejected by his own people (the gospel of 2 Sundays ago). Then, last Sunday we see Jesus (not deterred at all by the rejection) sending out his apostles in twos to preach and to heal. This week we jump over Mark’s story of John the Baptist’s death to the return of the apostles and Jesus’ compassion toward them – and then toward the crowd of hungry people in “a deserted place”. What do you make of this story and the order? We all need to go off to a deserted place to rest at times. What deserted places have you found helpful?
Picture Jesus listening to the apostles. It is almost like when Dad comes home from work and everyone fights to be first to tell him about their day. He listens to them with such compassion…he knows how hard they are trying and wants them to have rest. But the crowd is ever present and needy. We might be irritated by this! But, “their need calls forth from him what he does best – generously subordinate his needs so he can minister to the needs of others…There will always be a faithful Shepherd who will not mislead, who will not abandon the truth, who will never desert the flock,” (Workbook for Lectors, 211). How does this compare with the first reading?
Shepherding in the church, which today embraces many people in diverse ministries, calls for a Christ-like openness and responsiveness. How we do things is as important as what we do. That is the asceticism of Christianity. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 491). What do you think?
The Hebrew word for pity described in the text is ‘womb’. Jesus is drawn to help the crowd because his heart burns for them like a mother to a baby within her. When people are hurting and hungry, disciples of Christ are to extend the compassion of God and one’s very life to them – balanced, of course, with appropriate doses of much needed solitude, contemplation, and prayer (W&W, Birmingham, 578). How do you achieve this balance?
In The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis, he says that the shepherd (or priest) takes on the smell of the sheep. But he also says that ALL evangelizers must take this on. “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice, “ (p. 8). We are all called.
Let us pray:
Spirit of Fire,
You revealed yourself through the burning bush
And the fiery courage of Pentecost.
Fiery Spirit, Source of all creative power,
Kindle your Holy Spark within me,
Breathe into me your Sacred Passion,
Fill me with your Flame until I have become fire,
Offering warmth and light to the world. AMEN
In the spiritual life we keep our practices, spend time in prayer, seek God in all things, and yet at some point even all this is not enough – and we are asked to become fire. Becoming fire means letting our passion for life and beauty ignite us in the world. It means, as St. Ignatius of Loyola wisely said, that we are called to set the whole world on fire with our passion for God. (Paintner, water, wind, earth & fire, p. 60) Consider the readings today within the context of becoming fire.
1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 7-0
In this passage we hear Jeremiah’s lament, his intensely personal outcry to God. His enemies for awhile seemed more powerful than ever; his failure was painful and seemed final. Yet, in the end, Jeremiah survived his dark night of the soul remaining faithful in God’s service. The word that is translated as ‘duped’ or ‘enticed’ is the word that is used to describe the enticement involved in the seduction of a young woman by a man. Jeremiah claims to be ‘seduced’ by God into servicing and proclaiming God’s Word. It is a bold lament, filled with disappointment, anguish and love. (Celebration, August 28, 2005)
How often do we get stuck in a situation and can’t see our way out? Sometimes we make decisions and dig our heels in despite new information, or despite the nagging that maybe we should be more open (A disagreement with a friend? A work decision? A long-time family rift?). It is in those moments that the fire of Spirit could burn within you, and be trans-formative.
2nd Reading– Romans 12: 1-2
Paul tells us to “Offer our bodies to God.” This is very different from the Greek culture/theology that saw the body as only a prison-house, something to be despised and even shame-filled. But Paul reminds us that Christians believe that our bodies, our very real selves, belong to God. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation assures us that God did not ‘stand apart’ from our bodies, but in our very flesh God came to show us his presence and love. Paul is telling them and us that it is the everyday ‘bodily’ activities of ordinary work in a shop or shipyard, factory or office that we are to offer to God as worship. In fact, the word used for worship is latreia, a noun form of the verb that means to labor or work for hire. It is not slavery, but the voluntary undertaking of work, a livelihood– that to which a person gives his life. So it is used in the Bible to mean the service or worship of God. In other words, Paul is saying that true worship is the offering of everyday life to God. This demands a transformation of body and mind; we must undergo a change. Our self-centered minds must become Christ-centered. We should not try to match our lives to all the fashions and interests of the world. We are not to be chameleons, but Christians. From the inside out, we must take on the mind and heart of Christ, being the Body of Christ in the world – the ‘job description’ for a Christian. Christian ethics is not so much a code, as it is a person…(William Barclay, Romans, 155-158) What does this kindle in you?
The Gospel: Matthew 16: 21-27
The ‘rock’ that last week Jesus was going to build his church upon has now become a stumbling stone – an obstacle in the way of Jesus’ (and the church’s) true mission. Suffering is not the goal, but it is often the cost of discipleship. This passage is in some ways like the story of the temptations in the desert. Peter is trying to entice Jesus with the vision of an earthly kingdom. Although Jesus rebukes Peter, in the correction is also an invitation to follow him. Like Peter we must learn that it is not enough to just speak the words of faith about Jesus; we must follow in his footsteps. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496)
We often feel that suffering means that something has gone wrong – that God is absent or punishing. In the light of Jesus and his cross, suffering can actually be a more intense experience of God’s presence. This is the dynamic that we call the paschal mystery – that to lose life, is sometimes to find the fullness of life. Thinking like humans, we too often focus only on the suffering and ‘death’ of an experience. Thinking like God is to focus on the fullness of life (its glory and blessings) that God wishes to offer us. The paschal mystery is not just a concept. It is a turning of our hearts and minds toward God trusting always that His life and love can work in us – even when we suffer, even when things go all wrong, even when we fail. We need to ‘get behind Jesus’ so we can follow him – to let go of our own preconceptions and worries letting God lead us to life – a life so full it overflows into eternal life. (Living Liturgy, 2002, 228-229)
To deny oneself is a phrase that has very Semitic origins. It is an idiom that means to ‘love less’ or to ‘give lower priority to’ oneself, meaning that we are to commit ourselves totally to God. It can be a dangerous phrase if taken out of context or given a negative meaning that implies that one is to subordinate oneself to others in a way that is not life-giving in a true and healthy sense. What Matthew is trying to say is that as children of God, we are to subordinate ourselves to God; it is in a way a celebration of this ownership by God. Christians are to be mutually subordinate to one another – not oppressed or oppressors. Embracing one’s cross means that we ‘put up with’ and accept whatever difficulties and shame come our way because we are trying to follow Jesus. Jesus’ death on a cross was a shameful death, yet he did not turn away from God’s way of love and truth. To follow Jesus may mean persecution or ridicule or hostility or other difficulties (like it did for Matthew’s community). These we must accept knowing with Paul that all is loss compared with “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . to know him and the power of his resurrection.” See Philippians 3:8b-11. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496) What meaning (and questions) do you find in all this?
John Pilch also cautions us to read this section knowing that it comes out of a culture “where speech is more evocative than explicit.” This is language intended to call us – to awaken us – to God’s love and God’s vision of what is honorable and important in life. But Jesus can also see the ‘handwriting on the wall.’ He is making an ever-growing number of powerful enemies. Yet, Jesus declares forcefully that this ominous future is also filled with God’s purpose and God’s truth. He challenges Peter and his followers to ‘get behind him’ and travel on — doing what God wills, not what might be convenient or easy. (The Cultural World of Jesus, 132, and “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Jesus saves – that is the message. Jesus saves US. That is the fire burning. That is what can lift us up and keep us on the path. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” The fire grows as we help one another on our paths. Do we allow our eyes to meet and spark a connection or we turn away? What inner work will help ignite the fire of love?
Let us pray:
Spirit of Refining Fire,
Help me to release what no longer serves me
To make room for your light to fill me.
Blessings of fire be upon me
May the light of God illuminate me
And may the flame of love burn brightly in me
May I discover each day anew my own hidden fire
And enter it fully. AMEN
Let us pray…
God who dwells within,
God who is with us in good times and in bad,
We turn our hearts again to you and we proclaim:
nothing can come between us
and your love for us,
even if we are troubled or worried or persecuted,
or lacking food or clothes,
or being threatened or even attacked.
We can grow through difficult times
because of this power of your love at work in our lives.
We lean upon you and offer you thanks and praise. AMEN
If you are looking for a happy ending in Jeremiah, you are not going to find one. The people do not listen to Jeremiah’s words from God, and go the walls of Jerusalem fall into the hands of the Babylonian Empire. The only sign of hope is the Oracles against the Nations which spells out the demise of Babylon, implying the release from exile and a restoration of Jerusalem. After the oracle is read by Seraiah, Jeremiah instructs him to tie a stone to the scroll and throw it into the Euphrates as a sign, “Thus shall Babylon sink. Never shall she rise, because of the evil I am bringing upon her,” (51:63-64).
Don’t we sometimes feel this same despair, that there will never be an end to it and God will never come to our aid? Jeremiah provides such imagery for this: “shattered Moab like a pot that no one wants” (48:38), “flee, retreat, hide in deep holes” (49:8), “they toss like the sea which cannot rest” (49:23) and “she shall be empty, and become a total desert” (50:13). The only thing to hold on to in times like that is hope. What is hope?
From Fr. Pat Butler’s talk, “Though He Slay Me, I will hope in Him”:
According to Thomas Aquinas, hope is a special desire that has a special object. That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get YET possible. We must have faith that it is possible. Faith is necessary for hope. Both faith and hope must be in love (which you ALREADY HAVE by the grace of God). God is love. That’s all God can do. We choose hopelessness when we cannot see a better outcome.
Despite the harsh language in Jeremiah, God wants us to choose hope! Jeremiah doesn’t know Jesus yet, but we do. Jesus promises us hope. Jesus gives us the happy ending.
From Harry Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People:
Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. They do not happen for any good reason, which would cause us to accept them willingly. But we can give them a meaning. We can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them. The question we should be asking is not, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” That is really an unanswerable, pointless question. A better question would be, “Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”
When you come to the place
where the shadows are,
And the light ahead is withdrawn:
Put your hand in God’s and keep it there
Till he carries you over and on.
You may have to tarry a while in the dark
Till God is ready to lead
But while you are waiting just pray and pray
To Him your great need.
Then hold on to God’s hand with a
Let nothing deter your stand:
Keep waiting and waiting and holding on
Till the shadows pass from the land. AMEN
Let us pray…
God of Justice,
Remove me from my comfort zones
so I can help the poor and vulnerable.
Open my eyes
to see the potential for change around me,
and give me the courage
to take the next step. AMEN
There is a shift in Jeremiah’s prophecy. For many years he had predicted pestilence, slaughter, famine and captivity. Now that Jerusalem is falling, he is here to instill hope: “I will bring upon them all the good I promise them,“ (32:42) and “Call to me, and I will answer you,” (33:3). And it is a LASTING hope, a complete transformation of Israel: “One heart and one way I will give them…I will make with them an eternal covenant,” (32:39-40). Note how the Lord says He will make the covenant WITH them, not at them. There is a partnership, with both sides giving. How does God partner with you?
By following God and being “in covenant” with God, we will remain connected to God and to each other. Our faithfulness is made evident by our choices, not only in what we avoid but also in what we choose to do. When am I most tempted to make my own rules and be “in covenant” elsewhere? How do the choices I make each day show my fidelity to God? (From 3 Minute Retreat by Loyola Press)
Baruch is a friend that is loyal and true to Jeremiah. He is there for him, even when it is hard. It seems that Baruch wrote much of what we find in these scripture passages, although there are hints that a man named Shaphan was connected with the scrolls too. Think of who your spiritual friends are…how do they help your faith?
Gedaliah is the son of this Shaphan, considered pro-Babylonian and “sell-outs” in order to receive power and prestige from the new Babylonian empire. He is assassinated. The government is falling apart as well as the city. Poor Jeremiah is amidst all of this turmoil, mostly in jail or a cistern. “Jeremiah was constantly exposed to the situation of God, and tirelessly attentive to the mood of the people, offering boldly the call, the challenge, and the warning, attempting to unravel the knots in the relationship between God and Israel,” (Heschel, A., The Prophets, p. 139).
Sin means, “missing the mark”. Jeremiah, using words from God, proclaims how the people of Israel and Judah have sinned which is why they are in this predicament. Even when we know we are sinning, we sometimes delay going to God and being reconciled. Think of St. Augustine before being baptized, saying “For there was nothing I could reply when you called me: Rise, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten thee; wheras You showed me by every evidence that Your words were true, there was simply nothing I could answer save only laggard lazy words: ‘Soon,’ ‘Quite soon,’ ‘Give me just a little while,’ (Confessions, p. 165). These words from Jeremiah are meant to help us. Don’t delay! God wants to be in relationship (covenant, partnership) with us.
Spirit of Peace,
Stop the raging seas of violence
and hate that fill our lives
so I can witness your love
and compassion to a hurting world.
Bless me with the words
to proclaim your peace,
the strength to live out your justice
and the courage to take the next step. AMEN
Let us pray from Jeremiah (23:3-6)
You told us you would gather the remnant
of your flock from all the lands and
bring them back to the meadow,
where we will increase and multiply.
You said you would care for us
so we need no longer fear and tremble,
that we would never be lost to you.
We pray for your help to always be searching
for you, where we will find rest. AMEN
Jeremiah makes quite a prophecy in chapter 23: 5-6. After the opening prayer adapted from the verses right before, Jeremiah hints of a messianic king, who will represent everything that his predecessors failed to be. “A righteous shoot to David”: someone stemming from the line of David that will be a concrete manifestation of Yahweh’s own justice (sedaq). The word justice is used a lot in these few verses. This king will be named “The Lord our justice,” (Faley, R., Footprints on the Mountain, p. 489). What does this mean to you? Does this give you hope? Does God bring justice to your life?
“What has straw to do with the wheat?” (24:28) Jeremiah says this about the false prophets. He does not want the Israelites to have anything to do with them. Straw is hollow, where wheat is not. Consider this analogy: What is false and hollow in your life? Wheat is nourishing. What is nourishing and with good purpose in your life?
The yoke: “The people that submits its neck to the yoke of the king of Babylon to serve him I will leave in peace on its own land, says the Lord, to till it and dwell in it,” (27:11). The yoke could not be broken by human effort because the Babylonian king was the instrument of God’s purpose. And it was futile to fight against God! (Andersen, Understanding the Old Testament, p. 347). The yoke represents that which binds us to what is right and just. It may be a heavy weight at times but it has good purpose and moves us forward.
Christian readers pay close attention to 31:31-34, the promise of the new covenant. As Christians, we may understand this as the covenant God makes through Jesus Christ. The word covenant is translated as testament, like the New Testament. This piece of scripture is also referred to in Hebrews 8:8-12, and follows, “In speaking of ‘a new covenant,’ he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear,” (13). This is a dismissive judgment, implying that Christianity supersedes Judaism and makes it obsolete. If reading the passage in Jeremiah closely, the new covenant is actually with the house of Israel and the house of Judah alone. Judaism is not to be displaced but rather renewed, (Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 189). We are ALL renewed when we turn to the Lord!
Closing Prayer by Jeremiah (29:11-14):
You know well the plans you have for us,
plans for our welfare, not for woe!
Plans to give us a future full of hope
When we call on you,
when we go to pray to you,
you will listen to us.
When we look for you, we will find you.
When we seek you with all our hearts,
we will find you with us. AMEN
Let us pray from Jeremiah (13:15-16):
Give ear, listen humbly,
for the Lord speaks.
Give glory to the Lord, your God,
before it grows dark;
Before your feet stumble
on darkening mountains;
Before the light you look for turns to darkness,
changes into black clouds. AMEN
We begin to hear more and more the toll of being a prophet is having on Jeremiah…”Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!” (15:10), “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;” (20:7). He is suffering with the weight of his calling. And yet, he goes on to say, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion:” (20:11). Like most of the prophets, Jeremiah always moved from anger and reproach to hope. Never the other way, (Guentert, US Catholic, p. 21). Have you ever been through a trial where you felt such despair? Did you cry out to God like this? Jeremiah shows us what it is like to have a personal relationship with God, a relationship where he isn’t afraid to get mad and seriously complain to God about his predicament. He knows that God will always be there for him anyway.
For all the sins and problems the people were causing, these were only outward symptoms of a condition rooted in the heart, the seat of man’s loyalties and devotion. Jeremiah points out that the heart can cover up and justify (“rationalize”) its motives: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (17:9). Yet, no man can hide himself in a secret place from God, for YHWH is “at hand” and not “afar off” (23:23-24). He who “searches the mind and tries the heart” knows men’s deepest motives far better than they understand themselves (17:10). In the awful exposure of God’s revelation, man’s real condition comes to light. YHWH’s eyes look for truth (5:3), for the inner integrity that comes from a true relationship to God and fellowman in the covenant, (Andersen, Understanding the Old Testament, p. 333).
“Why does the way of the godless prosper?” (12:1) This is the mystery in doing what is right. There is a sometimes a feeling of unfairness. Why should I do right when there are people that don’t and seem better off? There is no clear answer, except that we are called to do so. Because “it is right and just”. Because it makes us feel better. Because it brings us closer to God and what is good.
On the potter’s vessel in Chapter 18:
Life is not as fate designs, nor is history a realm to be tyrannized by man. Events are not like rocks on the shore shaped by windand water. Choice, design, is what determines the shape of events. God is at work on man, intent to fashion history in accord with Himself…Ultimately there is only one will by which history is shaped: the will of God; and there is only one factor upon which the shape of history depends: the moral conduct of the nations. The history of mankind moves between these two poles,” (Heschel, The Prophets, p. 174). What do you think?
Closing Prayer by Jeremiah (17:7-8):
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit. AMEN
Let us pray Jeremiah’s Prayer (10:23-25):
Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own;
it is not for them to direct their steps.
Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—
not in your anger,
or you will reduce me to nothing.
Pour out your wrath on the nations
that do not acknowledge you,
on the peoples who do not call on your name.
For they have devoured Jacob;
they have devoured him completely
and destroyed his homeland. AMEN
“So who would want to be a prophet? Compared to the respectable philosopher, the prophet is a dumpster dweller. While the philosopher lives in the mansions of the mind, the prophet is homeless in the streets of everyday facts. The philosopher gives lectures on good and evil in general, while the prophet rants against this particular evil. And while the guru calmly encourages the good life in theory, the prophet threatens hellfire against this practical bad life…The prophet feels fiercely. God has thrust a burden on his soul…For the prophet, no one is just enough, honest enough, faithful enough, good enough, godly enough,” (Smith, Fr. James, Celebration Jan 2001, “Called To Be Prophet”).
Do you want to be around a prophet? How are you like a prophet? At our baptism, we are anointed as priest, prophet and king. The Hebrew word for prophet is nabi, or “the one who was called” by God. Prophets:
- challenge the lifestyle of their contemporaries.
- proclaim the covenant (that God wants a personal relationship with us).
- insist on justice for all (Zannoni, A., Scripture From Scratch Sept. 1994, “The Biblical Prophets: Challenging role Models”).
Jeremiah was born about 650 BC. Jeremiah began to prophecy in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign, about 626 BC (only 21 years old!). He is said to have come from a priestly family of Anathoth, a village 4 miles NE of Jerusalem, (Andersen, B., Understanding the Old Testament, p. 300). He supported the reform of King Josiah which began in 629 BC. Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, fell in 612 BC, preparing the way for the new colossus, Babylon, which was soon to put an end to Judean independence. But King Josiah died, and the old idolatry returned. He opposed it with all of his being. Arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace were his lot. Nebuchadnezzar took swift and terrible vengeance, destroying Jerusalem in 587 and sending the people into exile. Jeremiah remained amidst the ruins of Jerusalem but was forced into Egyptian exile until he was murdered by his own people. They appreciated his words after his death (The New American Bible: Saint Joseph Edition, p. 892-893).
The book of Jeremiah is more like an anthology ( a collection of writings).
Chapters1-25: prophetic oracles with some biological narrative inserted.
Chapters 26-45: more biological narratives with occasional sermons
Chapters 46-51: oracles against the nations
Chapter 52: the fall of Jerusalem (from II Kings 24:18-25:30)
Theologians seem to think that Jeremiah wrote most of the writings, with editing done by his scholar Baruch and later writers (Andersen, p. 327-328).
Jeremiah’s call: “I see a branch of the watching tree.” (1:11) This is an almond tree, which the Hebrew called shaqed, or “the watcher” (shoqed means “watching”, a play on words). Its white flowers are the first to bloom in the spring and seem like hundreds of eyes covering the tree. “Well have you seen, for I am watching to fulfill my word.” (1:12)
The main theme is to indict Jerusalem for its disobedience to YHWH’s Torah and to sentence Jerusalem to the punishments that follow upon Torah disobedience. Jeremiah does this primarily using the Lord’s voice. He wants to make it very clear that this is how God feels and he is only the instrument for God’s communication. He does so using many words from nature and aspects of everyday life. Consider his audience! What spoke to you in these chapters? How do you compare these people to today and your life?
Jeremiah makes reference that even before he was born, he was meant to do this work of prophecy. Have you ever felt that kind of certainty?
Closing Reflection from Abraham Lincoln:
In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all…
It comes with bitterest agony…
Perfect relief is not possible, except with time.
You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better…
And yet this is a mistake.
You are sure to be happy again.
To know this, which is certainly true,
Will make you come less miserable now.
I have experienced enough to know what I say.