4 Epiphany, Year C: Jeremiah 1:4-10
This story of Jeremiah's commissioning strongly invites us to see Jeremiah as one who takes up the mantle of Moses. The excuses of the prophet in 1:6-8 are the same as those of Moses, namely, a lack of authority (cf. Exodus 4:1) and an inability to speak well (cf. Exodus 4:10). God's response and provision in Jeremiah 1:9 echoes the promise of Deuteronomy 18:18 that God will send a "prophet like Moses" and "put my words in his mouth." In a recent post about Elijah (click here), I mentioned the biblical tradition that God raises up a "prophet like Moses" for each generation to represent and communicate God's awesome, spine-tingling reality before the people. Jeremiah is certainly this kind of prophet.
Jeremiah's new role as Moses entails his radical self involvement and self sacrifice. We should thank the Lord every day that we are not called to Jeremiah's task. As a true intermediary, Jeremiah will quickly get radically and personally caught up in God's burning anger and wrenching pain over the people's sin and God's steadfast purpose to bring them back into the covenant. As 1:10 says, Jeremiah must both destroy and build, must both pluck up and plant. The book of Jeremiah echoes these phrases at 18:7; 24:6; 31:28, 40; 42:10; and 45:4. Jeremiah must perform seemingly contradictory tasks. If that were not enough to split his personality, as a Mosaic intermediary Jeremiah finds himself representing, often in quick succession, God's word, the voice of the people, and his own inner struggle. As we listen to Jeremiah's words throughout the book, we hear, alternately, his own inner words, a voice in radical empathy with Yahweh, and a voice in deep sympathy with the people. The emotionally overwhelming role of intermediary quickly tears Jeremiah up.
Read the book of Jeremiah not to become like Jeremiah in his anguish, but to see in him an interpretation of God's interrelations with God's people. Jeremiah embodies the divine-human encounter. He gives us readers a metaphor and paradigm of God's word in interaction with humanity.
In Jeremiah's persona we learn theology. We see God's wonder-working Word stirring things up, destroying and building. We glimpse God's inner struggle with a simultaneous antipathy and attachment to us sinners. We get insight into the burning power of God's word but also into its effect of drawing out genuine, deep conversation. In the prophet's life embodying the Word we do not see pure fiat at work but intermediation, back and forth, closeness and emotional involvement. Above all we see a God who can truly, radically say "I am with you" (1:8).
Will any of you be speaking on this text on Sunday? What are you thoughts?? Let's continue to explore this text in the comments and in more posts...