The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah's kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.
Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
"Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?"
He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb,
'Physician, cure yourself,' and say,
'Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'"
And he said, "Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
Will the real Jeremiah stand up? Is he the prophet responsible for today’s first reading or the prophet who composed those horribly depressing lines in 20:7-18? The two passages couldn’t have come from the same person – or could they?
When hearing any biblical prophet’s initial call from Yahweh, as we have in today’s first reading, it’s important to recognize that such narratives are some of the last things written in that particular prophet’s book of oracles – often after the prophet’s death. If we don’t accept this in the case of Jeremiah, we’ll easily misinterpret it, and never be able to reconcile it with chapter 20. Today Jeremiah is reflecting on a lifetime of being the conscience of the people. Through thick and thin he’s finally certain Yahweh had called him to be a prophet even before he was formed in the womb; he’s convinced he’d been dedicated as a prophet to the nations before his birth. But when he accuses Yahweh of tricking him to be his mouthpiece in chapter 20, and wishes he’d never been born, he’s still in the middle of the thick and thin. It’s one thing for a prophet to look at his or her ministry from a confident, life-ending perspective; it’s a totally other thing to reflect on that life during the day by day encounters with evil that make’s God’s presence and assistance problematic. Each passage is Jeremiah speaking, each passage is true, but each passage was composed at a different point in his faith journey.
Much the same can be said of Jesus the prophet. Just a few weeks ago we heard a voice from heaven assure him, “You are my beloved son in whom I’m well pleased.” Yet today he’s forced to thread his way through an angry crowd to escape being killed. Not exactly what we’d expect from God’s son. Why can’t a divine Jesus just snap his fingers and the crowd disappear? Is God no longer taking care of his/her son? After all, he didn’t do anything sinful. He simply raised people’s ire by reminding them that God’s actions aren’t limited to just God’s people. Certainly not a crime that merits a death sentence. Could Jesus also have experienced a Jeremiah 20 moment at that point of his ministry, but, for some reason, none of our four evangelists mentions it?
Any serious student of Scripture presumes the historical Jesus had many of those moments. Three of the four gospels narrate the best known of those occasions: Gethsemane. Yet we take for granted there were others, else the sleeping disciples who were with him that night wouldn’t have realized what was transpiring. Such moments must have happened before, when they weren’t asleep.
That’s why today’s I Corinthians pericope is so important. Only one thing keeps us going during those chapter 20 moments: love. Already in 8th grade I knew this passage was important because we were all forced to memorize it. But as I’ve gone through life, I’ve continually discovered the depth of that importance. As Paul points out, without love nothing else matters. No matter our prerogatives or talents; without love, they’re nothing. It’s the only thing in our life that counts.
Recently I’ve suggested using I Corinthians 13 at funerals, not just at weddings. Though it’s good to plan a future based on love, it’s far more significant to be able to reflect back on a life already lived in and with love. For many of us, our love and God’s love not only keeps us going, it’s the one element that makes sense of our lives, especially in our Jeremiah 20 periods; when we can’t figure out why terrible things are happening, and we’re tempted to “chuck the works.”