April 12, 2019
For me, today’s reading from Jeremiah 20: 10-13 was a bit unapproachable at first. Old Testament scriptures can seem distant with their archaic language couched in an unfamiliar cultural context. But on the other hand, they are wrapped in the fascinating fabric of history which has always interested me. So I started by exploring the life of Jeremiah, a prophet who lived some 2,600 years ago.
Jeremiah was not as tortured as Job perhaps, but he certainly had no easy time with his prophetic calling. He often questioned and complained about his vocation, particularly because his message was not one that the Jews of his time were prepared to accept and he suffered because of it. Many of the Jewish leadership had fallen in with the pagan practices of neighboring people and Jeremiah’s message of the destruction to befall Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon threatened their authority. But Jeremiah could not hold his tongue for when he tried, he was compelled to prophesy which he described like a “fire burning in his heart”. He warned the Jews that their infidelity to God (the worship of false idols and the like) would lead to dreadful consequences. But instead of turning back to God, they threatened him with death and imprisoned him. Jeremiah laments his persecutors, “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” Though his path was difficult, God saved Jeremiah from those that would do him harm. And God’s judgment fell upon the people of Jerusalem. The city was overrun by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and the first Temple of Solomon laid to waste. The majority of Jerusalem's inhabitants were either killed or carted off to Babylonia, for what would become a 70 year exile.
The New Testament reading from John 10: 31-42 parallels the reading of Jeremiah in many ways. Jesus, like Jeremiah, is persecuted by his own people as they accuse him of blasphemy and threaten to kill him for claiming equality with God. Jesus responds quoting Psalms 82:6 to prove their judgment in error (while not refuting his divinity). And in both scripture readings, God’s people refused to listen to His counsel.
Both readings are also intrinsically linked to the temple in Jerusalem. In Jeremiah, we hear of the unrepentant Jewish leaders at a time just prior to the destruction of the first temple (also known as Solomon’s Temple). The second reading follows the dialog between Jesus and his accusers which occurs in the “...temple area on the Portico of Solomon.” Furthermore, the events in John 10 take place during the Feast of the Dedication (or the Festival of Lights, more commonly known as Hanukkah). Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the second temple from Syrian control in 165 B.C.
What is most striking to me about the Gospel of John however, is how poignantly Jesus tries to reason with and reach his accusers saying, “If I am not doing my Father's work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for certain that the Father is in me and I am in the Father”. To me his love is palpable in that comment. He is surrounded by enemies who literally want to stone him to death and yet his love for them and tender desire for their understanding and redemption is the message of hope that he shares. He is begging them to shed their prejudices and truly see others for who they are, and for the good that they do. It must have troubled him deeply not to have been able to reach their hearts after all.
In closing, I find that it is the theme of judgment that most closely binds these two scripture readings. In the first, there is a threat of righteous judgment upon a sinful people and paradoxically in the second, an appeal from Jesus to reconsider judgment towards him, the Son of God who is innately sinless and therefor innocent. We glimpse judgment from the perspective of those who would be judged and from those prepared to deliver judgment on others.
Because the cause or need for judgment only comes into play when we have done wrong (sinned) or have been wronged by others, I reflected on that. Like the Jews from Jeremiah’s time, when have I ignored warnings, suppressed my conscience or shut out God’s invitation to turn away from sin? When have I ostracized others, created divisions or deepened existing ones, justifying it through perceived threats to my own comfort or security? And like Jesus’ accusers in the temple, when have I heard God’s call and ignored it for fear of having to scrutinize my own prejudices, or reluctance to change? And finally, like Jesus’ example before his accusers, when others have harmed or threatened me have I reached out and offered understanding and forgiveness?
St. Anthony Parishioner