The word of the LORD came to me, saying… stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account… They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD (Jer 1:4,17,19)
It is said of Judaism that it considers its second greatest prophet to be Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet of God in the 7th century B.C. He was called for the specific purpose of calling the Jews to conversion and away from idolatrous worship. In particular, Jeremiah warned the Jews about the Babylonian conquest and of their impending captivity which began near 597 B.C. Jeremiah is sometimes called the “weeping prophet” as he is considered the author of the Book of Lamentations, a collection of sorrowful poems concerning Jerusalem’s destruction.
The life of prophecy was not one of ease for Jeremiah. As he spoke out against the nation’s drift into paganism, including against the Jewish leadership which fostered it, Jeremiah was often berated by the official royal prophets and his predictions were seen as dolefully exaggerated. He became a victim of plots, he was scourged and mistreated, and even thrown into a cistern of deep mud and left to die. But as the Lord told Jeremiah, as quoted above in this Sunday’s first reading, “They will fight against you, but not prevail over you”.
Jesus made similar promises of protection to his disciples. When Jesus was granting authority to His apostle Peter, He stated that even the gates of the netherworld (death) would not prevail against the Church (Mt 16:18). However, it does seem of late that the world is prevailing over the Church in various ways and that Church leadership and discipleship are like those in Jeremiah’s time: often found consulting the world even as the world seeks to malign the Church. Some parishes are closed; some are razed to the ground; not by an invading force but by an internal process that chugs along without the apparent knowhow to reverse the losses. No doubt the culture has inflicted many of these losses on the Church, yet many losses have been self-inflicted.
For this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time so as to reflect on the lament of Jeremiah (and ourselves), we have placed on our bulletin cover a work by French Realist Horace Vernet, entitled Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (1844). Vernet was an artist for the French crown and renowned for being historically faithful in his painted battle scenes. Vernet also had a fascination with oriental painting, that is, with painting works depicting the East, or more specifically, the Middle East.
Thus we see Jeremiah amongst the rubble of Zion after the Babylonians did their work. Jeremiah writes his lamentations as “the Word of the Lord came to him” indicated by his upward gaze. Jeremiah is not sitting but kneeling as he is in the presence of God. Fresh smoke arises in the background, yet the blue sky offers hope as promised by the prophet Isaiah (Is 43: 14-19).
Hence, we too must hope for a great restoration. But we must do so as did the returning Jewish exiles, directing our entire lives toward God in prayer, word, and confession (Neh 8:6; 9:2).
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services