Commentary on Jer 15:10, 16-21
The call of Jeremiah is renewed. We have today the third of Jeremiah’s so-called “confessions”, in which he bares his soul to God. It includes two responses from the Lord, of which part of one is included in today’s reading.
Jeremiah is experiencing a spiritual crisis half-way through his ministry and is feeling very sorry for himself. Here, God, far from issuing sympathetic noises, tells him to get his act together and to stop his orgy of self-pity. He calls Jeremiah back to a new conversion and renews, in almost the same words, the commands and promises of the prophet’s original call.
(For a helpful picture of Jeremiah and his difficulties, see the Introduction to the Prophets in the New Jerusalem Bible.)
The tone is set by the opening words: “Woe is me!” The reason for Jeremiah’s moaning is that he has become, as a prophet, a source of strife and dissension. He regrets that his mother gave birth to him to have to face such problems in his prophetic calling. He sees himself merely as a source of strife and division everywhere.
“I have neither lent nor borrowed,” he says and yet he has all this trouble, everyone is against him. We know how lending or borrowing money can be a serious source of friction and even violence between lenders and borrowers.
“Your anger is very slow” he complains to God. The people causing him so much trouble are those he is accusing of being unfaithful and disobedient to God but they are being allowed to get away with it. Where is God’s protection for his prophet?
“Realise that I suffer insult for your sake,” he says in case his God is not aware of what he is going through and who is the real cause of his troubles. It does not make sense because he has been so faithful to God and his Law. “When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart.” He had made God’s word and God’s law his very own; he had assimilated them into his very being. For he had been called in Yahweh’s name; he belonged to Yahweh in a special way.
He never had anything to do with “scoffers”, the rich and the arrogant who felt they were above any law, including God’s. They were those who mocked at and rejected the message he brought. Under God’s constraint, he “held himself aloof” in the sense that he never married and he had few friends because “with [God's] hand” on him he felt that that was part of his calling. Part of his loneliness was his distancing himself with indignation at the sins of Judah. The prophet’s lot can be a lonely one.
Why, then, does he have to suffer such continuous pain from a wound that will not heal? “Do you mean for me to be a deceptive stream with inconstant waters?” God has become for him a treacherous brook, whose waters are inconstant. Jeremiah here, with a hint of sarcasm, accuses God of being undependable, in contrast to the Lord’s own earlier description of himself as a “spring of living water”. In Jer 2:13 Yahweh had said: “My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters” (see Thursday of Week 16).
Yahweh then replies to Jeremiah’s “confession”. The Lord commands Jeremiah to repent, then encourages him and renews his call. If Jeremiah is willing to return then God will happily take him back into his service. But there is a condition. He must speak “noble, not despicable” thoughts, like those he has just been uttering. Only then can he truly act as the “mouth” or spokesperson of God. Those negatives thoughts will come back to him but he must not go back to them.
If he follows the Lord’s command, then the Lord guarantees that he will be strong enough to face any opposition. “I will make you a bronze wall fortified against this people.” But there is no promise that life will be any easier. On the contrary, “they will fight against you but they will not overcome you”. Why? “Because I am with you to save you and deliver you.” A solemn pledge – “it is the Lord who speaks”.
Persecution and rejection is almost inevitable for anyone who takes a prophetic stance in the Church or outside it. The prophet, by his or her calling, calls into question the conventional wisdom of a society or church.
It is the role of the prophet not so much to tell the future as to point out the direction in which the community should be going, what it should be doing and what it should not be doing, and what the consequences of its actions are likely to be.
Sometimes the prophet, in order to be heard, may speak in very clear and blunt language. This is not likely to enhance his popularity with those who become the object of his attacks or criticisms.
Jesus told us to love unconditionally and to forgive for ever but he never, never said that we would be loved in return. On the contrary, he said that among the ‘blessed’ would be included those who suffered persecution for the sake of the Gospel.
Jeremiah does not seem to have understood this fully. He felt that because of his loyalty to God he should have been protected by God and respected by the people. He told God this in no uncertain terms. In reply he was told that, as a prophet, he would continue to be scorned and rejected but that he would be given the strength to carry on. We cannot expect anything different.