|Holy Prophet Jeremiah, drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2011|
"If I say I will not mention him or speak any more in his name then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in and I cannot"(Jer 20:9). These words from the prophet, Jeremiah, himself sum up in a clear and dramatic way the struggle of Jeremiah whose life of devotion to the word of God seemed only to earn him the scorn and rejection of his contemporaries.
Jeremiah, the man
Yet it is precisely this personal struggle with his calling that makes him one of the most appealing of the prophets in the OT. More than any other we gain an insight into Jeremiah the man as we read through the oracles he proclaimed throughout his long career. Though he became known as the prophet of doom his preaching reveals a person of great compassion, courage and integrity. While he clearly foresaw the disaster that was coming upon Judah and Jerusalem because of its corrupt and weak leaders and was at times tempted to despair, his faith in the God of the covenant taught him to hope for a new and better future.
Jeremiah was born in the village of Anathoth, near Jerusalem around the year 650BC. At that time the dominant world power was Assyria. Politics and religion in his homeland had been dominated by the long reign of King Manasseh who had been keen not to offend his Assyrian masters. This meant that idolatry was the order of the day and that the temple in Jerusalem had fallen into decay. However things were to change quite dramatically when a new king came to the throne in Judah. His name was Josiah and his reign began in 639. He was determined to shake free from the shackles of Assyrian rule and he set about a sweeping religious reform aimed at restoring the temple in Jerusalem to its rightful place.
Beginning his ministry
During this work, a copy of what was probably an early edition of the book of Deuteronomy was found in the temple (2 Kings 22) and this provided a further impulse for the reforming zeal of the king. It is about this time that Jeremiah is said to have begun his preaching ministry. With Assyrian power in decline it seemed that there was a bright future for the small kingdom of Judah and those within it who were keen to be true to their religious traditions.
Sadly, however, this was not to be. King Josiah was killed in battle in 609. The Egyptians who had defeated him installed his son Jehoiakim as a puppet ruler. He shared none of his father's reforming zeal and things went quickly from bad to worse. On the political front the Babylonians and the Egyptians were struggling to fill the power vacuum left by the end of the Assyrian empire and the tiny kingdom of Judah was no more than a pawn in their game.
During this time Jeremiah roundly condemned the rulers who were about to bring catastrophe on the people. In particular he had hard words for Jehoiakim who tried to rebel against the Babylonians only to have them capture the city and send some of its people into exile in 598BC (Jer 22: 13-19). Such an uncompromising stance meant that Jeremiah had few friends among the ruling elite. The king had Jeremiah barred from the temple precinct and then ordered the burning of the scrolls which contained his words and which had been written down by his scribe Baruch (36: 1-32). Jehoiakim's failed rebellion led the Babylonians to put in a new king, Zedekiah, but he was weak and indecisive, refusing to listen to Jeremiah's advice and even having him put in prison.
After yet another failed rebellion the Babylonians under king Nebuchadnezzar came once again to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. This time on capturing the city they burned it and destroyed the temple (587BC). All the leading citizens and craftsmen were taken into exile in Babylon. For his part Jeremiah was taken away to Egypt against his will where he died, murdered, according to one tradition, by his own people. Jeremiah's influence was greater after his death than before. Thanks to the work of Baruch and others, copies of his sayings were read among the exiles and he clearly had an impact upon people like Ezekiel and the writer of the prophecies contained in Isaiah 40-55. It is believed that the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah as it now stands came into being sometime after the exile.
The message of Jeremiah
It is clear from the outset that Jeremiah's sensitive nature was going to impact very strongly on his life as a prophet. His calling as described at the beginning of the book shows a young man who is reluctant to take on the task he is being offered. "Lord I am only a youth" is the plea he makes but to no avail as the Lord insists that he proclaim a message of repentance, warning about the danger from the north i.e. the invading Babylonian armies. Even though his message is often a harsh one it is spoken in language of great feeling and compassion. He understands in a very heartfelt way that Israel's true identity lies in restoring its covenant relationship with her God.
"I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown; but my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living water, and dug out for themselves cisterns, cracked cisterns that hold no water(2:2, 12-13). [Taken from a Divine Word Missionary Publication, December, 2003]
My appreciation of the Prophet Jeremiah did not really begin to develop until the firs time I actually sat down and read the entire book along with a good commentary. Here are a few of the amazing things I discovered about this holy man.
A Type of the One who was to come: Jeremiah never married in accordance with God’s command: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place” (Jer. 16:2). Disgraced by his brethren, Jeremiah led a solitary life, having neither wife nor children. This loneliness was a heavy burden for him. However, he occasionally enjoyed the support of friends who stood up for him. In all this he is a type of the One who was to come later - the humble, solitary Man who was rejected by His brethren in spite of all the grace he displayed.
Another Biblical Teaching about the sanctity of Life from the moment of conception: To Jeremiah the Lord revealed, “Before you were born I sanctified you.” Like the apostle Paul, Jeremiah was set apart from his mother’s womb (see Gal. 1:4, Acts 9:15; 22:14). Then God spoke further to him, “I ordained you a prophet to the nations,” and finally “I shall send you.”
Powerful words that I identify with from my own spiritual journey: "You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger. I am a laughing-stock; all day long they all make fun of me. 8 For whenever I speak, I have to cry and proclaim, 'Violence and ruin!' For me, your word has been the cause of insult and derision all day long. 9 I would say to myself, 'I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more,' but then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not do it. 10 I heard so many disparaging me, 'Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!' All those around me watched for my downfall, 'Perhaps he will be tricked into error. Then we shall get the better of him and take our revenge!' 11 But God is at my side like a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, vanquished, confounded by their failure; everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs." [Jeremiah 20: 7-11]
I have, of course, experienced nothing like the persecution that the Prophet Jeremiah did; however, I have identified at times with the his cry in verse 7: "You have seduced me, Lord, and I have allowed myself to be seduced. You overpowered me; you were the stronger." In my opinion, our journey with God during this time we are given here on earth is never dull or lacking in adventure. Even when we "walk through the valley of the dark shadows", we find that even there He is with us and the struggle, if accepted with faith, only makes us love Him more.
Holy Prophet Jeremiah, pray for us.
My friend, Hylott, sent me a pps this week filled with beautiful photos of the flowers of the Dahlia plant. I know that pictures of flowers are not as interesting as cute puppies and kittens; however, these four photos I want to show you now are truly impressive.
Well, here it is, a lazy Saturday morning. The sun is shining and it is supposed to get quite warm today. In fact, Toronto along with most of the rest of Canada and most of the U.S. may be having record temperatures this weekend, I hear.
Suki, for one, is not worried about this! She leads a privileged life which means she can spend all day sleeping in a lovely, cool home -- thanks to central AC. She doesn't even realize that there is always a risk of "brownouts" at times like this. She just moved slightly in her sleep so, perhaps, she knows somehow that I am saying things about her!
I, on the other hand, need to go to the grocery store -- something I dislike doing on a Saturday -- because they were out of one item yesterday which I really like to include in my diet. I was promised that said item would be back in stock today. So, off I go to see if they kept their promise. Then, a bit later, I want to go to the gym for at least an hour.
I realized yesterday as I was about to reach the 55 minute mark on my recumbent bike that I really like going to the gym. It just feels so good when you finish! Those endorphins really are addictive, I guess. I remember when I first started going to the gym back in 2009, I was sure that it would never feel like anything but torture! Now, I look forward to it. Part of what changed the way I feel about exercise was the discovery that I can pray while I go through all those repetitions. The Rosary is perfect for this kind of activity as well as chaplets such as those to the Sacred Heart, etc. By the time I finish, not only does my body feel good and tired, but my spirit is also lifted up! If you would like more information on how I do this, just let me know.
So, it is time for me to head for the grocery store. I hope you enjoyed the icon of Jeremiah with its story. Now, as noted at the beginning, here is another icon of The Holy Family. Let me know what you think of it.
|Icon, The Holy Family, drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2011|
May the peace of God be with us all.
Holy Family, pray for us.