The Struggles of Jeremiah

Let my eyes stream with tears day and night, without rest, Over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people,over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field, look! those slain by the sword; If I enter the city,look! those consumed by hunger. Even the prophet and the priestforage in a land they know not. (Jeremiah 14:17-24

Today’s first reading from our lectionary is a classic picture of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 598 BC, from the Prophet Jeremiah. The dead still wait to be buried, people are starving for food, prophets and priests wander about bewildered by what’s happened. 

Just as important as the description of the devastated city is Jeremiah’s reaction to it. He’s no distant onlooker, he’s there, part of it all, and his eyes are filled with tears, day and night.

That’s Jeremiah. It’s his city and his people that have been struck “a blow that cannot be healed.” Instead of the Babylonians or the Judean leaders whom he had warned, Jeremiah addresses God. “You alone have done all these things.”

Does Jeremiah have something to say about our situation today?

“Nowhere else in the Old Testament does the eternal, invisible God become so involved in human experience and communicate within it as in the person of Jeremiah,” Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, writes in his commentary on Jeremiah in the Catholic Study Bible.

Jeremiah  struggles with God. He “paradoxically combines exceptional obedience to God with vigorous argumentation against God, he struggles with doubt and anger, and at times succumbs to them, only to be purified and transformed (Jer. 9:1; 15:19).”

There are no quick answers for him, Fr. Carroll writes: “The biblical message comes  not simply as a finished polished discourse, but as an intuition, or to use Jeremiah’s words , as ‘fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones’ ( Jeremiah 20:10). Jeremiah frequently provides us with a message on its way to becoming the final word of God, struggling to come to birth and seeming lost in the dark birth canal. “(Jeremiah, 20:17) (Reading Guide 304-305)

As we look at our own world in the grip of a devastating wars, climate change, global pandemic, what about Jeremiah’s words to God: “You alone have done all these things.” 

I think we struggle like him. 

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