Phew! Well, on today’s reading it’s not hard to see why Jeremiah was so reluctant to take on the prophetic ministry that we read about the Lord calling him to yesterday. For the first of many occasions in this book, we find ourselves reading ‘the word of the Lord’ that came to Jeremiah, a message he was called to share in the hearing of all in Jerusalem.
It starts – as all good feedback should – with a summary of the positives: youthful devotion and love, following faithfully and staying holy, bringing good gifts to the Lord. But it soon becomes clear that all that was a long, long time ago and the situation, even in the time of their ancestors, let alone at the time of Jeremiah, could not be clearer: God’s people have forsaken their Lord, they have gone far from him and have kept themselves busy going after all manner of worthless things and even turning degenerate like a wild vine. As Walter Brueggemann succinctly puts it: Israel has been unfaithful to Yahweh and stands under harsh judgement.
It’s a long and a challenging poetic read, full of incredible images and language that really tugs at the heart. But it was a verse – verse 8 – written in a more straightforward style that particularly caught my attention:
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
I guess that’s inevitable given that I am a priest, a role that still sees me with leadership responsibility and therefore a calling to lead by example. If I’m not seeking God’s will and God’s way, I’m not much of a shepherd to the flock I’m called to serve.
And there is so much in this long poetic word of the Lord that I don’t feel I should try to summarise it too briefly here – that would be to lose so much of the deeper meaning it contains. But essentially, I come away from this reading challenged to look at the brokenness of humanity’s relationship with God. I believe, as scripture teaches, that God is love and loves all that he has made – every human being and the whole of the wonder of creation. And yet I have played – and continue to play – my part in damaging that relationship so full of promise.
I may be an ordained minister in the church of God but I’m still far from perfect. I might be able to kid myself that my ‘little’ transgressions each day really aren’t all that bad compared with all the evil in the wider world today, but God is holy and just – and, praise God, merciful. Wrong is wrong, but it’s good to be reminded in a reading like today’s that God will always pursue his people, seeking to draw us back to find life in the loving and forgiving relationship he offers us.