I never recommend that clinically depressed
students study Jeremiah 20. Lord knows what would happen. It's without
doubt the most dispiriting chapter in the entire Bible.
Jeremiah neither hides nor sugarcoats anything.
He's had it with Yahweh. As he puts it, "The word of Yahweh has
brought me derision and reproach all the day." Remember how the prophet
tried to escape Yahweh's original call in chapter 1? "I know not how
to speak," he said. "I am too young."
But God answered, "Say not, 'I am too
young.' To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you
shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver
Years later, in the first verse of Sunday's
first reading (Jer 20: 7-9), Jeremiah looks at his call and Yahweh's
assurances in a completely different way. "You duped me, Yahweh,"
he cries, "and I let myself be duped."
Translators are quite generous in rendering the
Hebrew word "pata" as duped or tricked. In other biblical
passages, it means to sexually seduce or rape someone! In the next line,
Jeremiah states, "You were too strong for me, and you triumphed."
He seems to be stressing the rape aspect of Yahweh's relationship with
Yahweh ends up being Jeremiah's worst
nightmare, the person our parents warned us kids never to get into a car
with. Jeremiah not only tells us he got into Yahweh's car, but also that
his life has been ruined because of it.
A psychologist, counseling the prophet, would
give him just one piece of advice: "Stop prophesying!" Jeremiah's
an-swer would be just as direct: "I already tried that, and it didn't
work." Or, as he says in our passage, "I say to myself, I will not
mention Him, 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."
Chapter 20 ends with Jeremiah's haunting
question: "Why did I come forth from the womb, to see sorrow and pain,
to end my days in shame?"
Try listening to the other two readings against
that depressing background. "Do not conform yourselves to this
age," Paul warns the Christian community in Rome (Rom 12:1-2),
"but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge
what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect."
God's word, which so stressed Jeremiah, is
the force that the Apostle believes will transform us into new people. At
this point, the prophet would step in and remind Paul of the implications of
such a transformation. We not only won't conform to this age; we won't
even fit into this age.
Why go on?
Peter discovers this painful reality in the
Gospel (Mt 16: 21-27). In no way did his openness to God's word in his
life go as far as Jesus' commitment and openness to it. When the latter
mentions suffering and death, "Peter took Him aside and began to
remonstrate with Him. 'May you be spared, Master! God forbid that any such
thing ever happen to you!'"
Do I hear Jeremiah snickering in the background
as Jesus responds, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
No doubt Jesus' own experience prompts Him to
say, "Those who wish to save their lives will lose them, but those who
lose their lives for my sake will find them."
We Christians have one advantage over Jeremiah:
We believe in an afterlife. Yet, going through the pain and angst that
living by God's word entails, our eventual entry into heaven isn't
always in front of our eyes. We know that many who know nothing about God's
word will also get into heaven.
Perhaps the only reason we people of faith
subject ourselves to such pain is simply because God asks us to do so. That's
why Jeremiah did it.