Don’t get down when you hear this Sunday’s first reading.
Jeremiah is having a bad day. He’s a bit overwhelmed with the negative response he is getting when he passes God’s message to the people. In short, Jeremiah is having a Jeremiad.
While we all have bad days, Jeremiah is very specific in his lament blaming God for his suffering: He is complaining that others are laying into him precisely because he is seeking to do what God has called him to do. Jeremiah begins his cry: “Lord you have seduced me… all day I am an object of scorn and everybody mocks me.”
Four centuries later ben Sirach picks up the same theme advising “if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.”
I had an email conversation about this during the week with a friend who put the experience well: “Speak the truth and do what is right in the face of recrimination and people pile in on you.”
It’s a bit of an irony really since we are often taught that if we follow God our lives will be easier. Yet we know from our own experience that when we seek to live in relationship with God we seem to push the buttons of both foes and friends even more. We might then try to live safely keeping our heads down and not upsetting anyone, but this lack of integrity wells up in us and like Jeremiah we find ourselves saying: “I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it”.
Like the Emmaus disciples our hearts burn within us as we walk with Christ.
Perhaps our problem is that we forget that we are followers of Jesus who suffered and was put to death.
But then we forget too that our deepest human desire is not simply to be free of suffering and persecution, but to be at peace with God. When we live with this desire God immediately gives us others who share this desire, and who will hold us to the fire in our struggles.
Nothing on earth is as wonderful as this experience of friendship with those who want to spend eternity with us and who will help us to get there.