I mentioned last week that the usual biblical way to surface God’s will in our lives is to surface the prophets in our lives. Today we hear that being the community’s prophet is a painful ministry
Normally we know only the prophet’s words. Rarely are we privy to his or her feelings. The biblical prophets’ disciples are good at collecting and arranging their oracles. But they almost never give us an insight into their mentors’ hearts and minds. The two exceptions are Deutero-Isaiah and Jeremiah. In three of the four Songs of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh the former gives us a glimpse of his state of mind as he’s preaching to the exiles in Babylon. In a similar way, chapters 10-20 of Jeremiah are interspersed with the prophet’s biting “confessions:” his reflections on his relationship with Yahweh and the problems which his ministry creates.
Today’s first reading is by far one of the most depressing in all of Scripture. Not only does Jeremiah’s message revolve around “violence and outrage,” but his ministry has resulted in his being “an object of laughter.” He faces “derision and reproach all the day.” Though he tries to get out of it, he quickly discovers it’s like resigning from the mafia. “I say to myself, I will not mention him (Yahweh), I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in. I cannot endure it.” He’s trapped!
Yet, the most disturbing aspect of Jeremiah’s prophesying is his claim that Yahweh originally tricked him into volunteering for it. “You duped me, O Yahweh, and I let myself be duped.” Carroll Stuhlmueller always insisted that the English word “duped” doesn’t accurately convey the meaning of the original Hebrew. In other biblical passages, the word not only has the meaning of rape, but the forcible rape of a helpless person. That type of abuse can also be understood in the words, “You were too strong for me, and you triumphed.”
Just as a child I was warned never to get into a stranger’s car, Jeremiah’s basically telling us that he’s never been the same since he got into Yahweh’s car. His whole life has been destroyed.
No wonder Paul reminds the Christian community in Rome, “. . . Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice . . . . Do not conform ourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you might discern what is the will of God.” Anyone who commits himself or herself to surfacing the will of God must expect suffering, especially if they try to convey that will to their communities.
Matthew’s Jesus agrees. “Those who wish to come after me must deny themselves, take us their crosses, and follow me. For those who wish to save their lives will lose them, but whoever loses their lives for my sake will find them.”
Among the five criteria for distinguishing real prophets from fakes, two states that not only does the authentic prophet suffer for delivering his or her message, but those who carry out their message, will also suffer. That seems to be why Peter “rebukes” the prophetic Jesus when he talks about the suffering he expects to endure for his preaching and lifestyle.
Jesus has little patience with him. “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” The historical Jesus was convinced that if Peter was serious about conveying God’s word, he’d also have to be serious about enduring the pain that word would bring.
Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus knew nothing of the “painless faith” many of us think we can and should achieve.