Whenever I teach a course on Jeremiah and come
to chapter 20, I encourage those who are suffering from clinical depression
to leave the room because this is, by far, the most depressing part of the
There are two important points to understand
about Jeremiah's predicament:
* First, he's a prophet: the conscience of his
people. His ministry revolves around telling people what Yahweh wants them
* Second, he knows nothing about an afterlife
as we know it. He believes good is rewarded and evil punished within the
confines of this life. That creates a dilemma. One can't be more certain
than a prophet that he is doing something good; at the same time, Jeremiah,
like all true prophets, suffers for the word he proclaims.
Restricted by his "this-life-only"
theology, we hear the prophet in the first reading for Sunday (Jeremiah
20:10-13) make a logical request of Yahweh: "You who test the just, who
probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on [my enemies],
for to you I have entrusted my cause."
Against all odds, Jeremiah continued to hope
that God might keep him alive long enough to see the demise of those
Cutting through the prevailing theology,
Jeremiah could only put his trust in Yahweh's word that he would be taken
care of, even though he had no idea how Yahweh was going to pull that off
before he died.
Jesus presumed His followers would have to
endure the same opposition Jeremiah experienced (Matthew 10:26-33). He was
concerned that what we learned "in darkness" would remain in
darkness because we know what will happen to us when we proclaim His word
"in the light."
"Do not be afraid of them," Jesus
insisted. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill
the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in
Though Jesus assured us of how deeply He values
us -- "Even the hairs of your head are numbered!" -- He never
promised that we wouldn't end up being scalped by our enemies. His fear was
that some, facing such opposition, might give up their faith and deny both
Him and the life His call offered them.
Perhaps St. Paul, in the second reading (Romans
5:12-15), provides us with the best insight into enduring persecution. He
goes beyond the effect such abuse has on us individually. Using Adam's sin
as well as Jesus' suffering and death as the norm, the Apostle reminds the
Christian community in Rome that one individual's actions can change life
for everyone: "If by one person's transgression the many died, how much
more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus
Christ overflow for the many?"
Jesus, Paul and Jeremiah are forced to go
beyond worrying about what's gong to happen to them if they openly proclaim
God's word. Jeremiah sets the standard by falling back only on the
relationship which the "just" have with God. Jesus agrees.
But Paul believes anyone who forms such a
relationship with God will also discover that, in the process of forming
that relationship, they've also formed a relationship with every other human
Not only did people of faith eventually
discover their life extended beyond their earthly existence; they also found
out that their relationship with God wasn't limited to Him.