Calling someone a Jeremiah is not a compliment!
This prophet is associated with doom and gloom, and with dire warnings and threats. We get a hint of that in today’s first reading.
However, Jeremiah deserves a better press. More than any other prophet he has a capacity to tell it as he sees it and that applies not only to his people but also to his God!
His story is that of the young man who experiences the draw of God’s call yet hesitates for fear of what it might entail. Yet God can be persuasive and, unusually for his time, a celibate Jeremiah proclaims the message in season and out of season. He doesn’t hesitate to tell people that their choices are disastrous, and he pays a price for it; thrown down a muddy well, rejected by king and people, mocked by friends who turn against him. All of this because he is quite simply trying to be faithful.
He is part of a people who are called to live a covenant with a God who cares about the poor and powerless. Yet his contemporaries are choosing other values and storing up trouble for themselves.
Jeremiah can’t help himself – he has to point it out. What makes him interesting among the prophets is that several times in his writing we get a glimpse into his personal life and his struggle with God. He complains bitterly to God about the situation in which he finds himself. God, having called him, now appears not to care. Jeremiah wants to pack it in but cannot and gives voice to his anguish in one of the most remarkable verses in the Bible:
“I would say to myself, ‘I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name anymore,’ but then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, and I could not do it.” (Jer 20:9)
What keeps him going? Somewhere, somehow God has taken hold of him, and Jeremiah knows in the depths of his being that no matter what, God is the great, compassionate, loving shepherd of his people who will simply never give up even when his people are hell-bent on their own destruction.
So, in today’s reading, the promise of a shepherd who will nourish his flock is something that Jeremiah believed in and longed for with all his heart.
That shepherd has come and, in his compassion, “sets himself to teach us at some length!” (Mk 6:34)
Thank you, Jeremiah, for hanging in there!