The Prophet Jeremiah

Jeremiah the Prophet, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

For the next week or so, we’re reading the Prophet Jeremiah from our lectionary. Born about 650 BC, Jeremiah spoke to a nation in its final days of crisis before the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and took away its leading citizens into exile in Babylon in 598 BC.

Jeremiah wasn’t accepted during his lifetime, for the most part. Discredited, arrested and imprisoned by his enemies, he urged religious reform and wise political alliances to Judea’s kings and leaders. His influence grew only after his death as the exiled Jewish community in Babylon reflected on his words and actions. 

Jeremiah influenced the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah 40-66, and some of the psalms. He remained in Jerusalem after its destruction and later was forced into exile in Egypt where he died, but there is no information about his death.

Our reading today from Jeremiah is a beautiful summary of his message:

You were “as a bride following me in the desert.” I brought you to a “garden land” which you defiled, the Lord says to the people of Jerusalem. “Two evils have my people done: they have forsaken me, the source of living waters. They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water. “  (Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13)

A “garden land”, symbol for Jeremiah and others of God’s promises, comes from the garden from the Book of Genesis, where God first gave humanity life. Now it’s offered again, but the “garden land” can be refused. 

“Living waters” also is a favorite symbol of the prophets. The person who is just is like a tree planted by living waters, Psalm 1 says.  A just people grow by God’s living waters. The cisterns we dig dry up and break. 

“With you is the fountain of life, O Lord”, our responsorial psalm says today. 

Jeremiah is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel, in Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question “Who do people say I am?”  They say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets, Peter responds.  (Matthew 16:14) Selections from Jeremiah are read in the lectionary in the 16th to the 18th weeks of the church year, year 2, to accompany the readings from Matthew which describe Jesus facing opposition after he begins his ministry in Galilee. In lent, Jeremiah is also read as Jesus faces betrayal and death at the hands of his enemies. 

Readings from Jeremiah occur in the Sunday readings, usually in the same context. He’s found in the church’s morning prayers: Jeremiah weeps over a desolate land after Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians.  ( Jeremiah 3 10-14, Friday Morning, 3) The prophet proclaims God’s promise of a “garden land” . (Jeremiah 14 17-21, Thursday Morning 1)

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