Jeremiah feels deceived because the Lord has called him. He was obedient and now his life is miserable. What can we learn from this passage?
The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy might sound a little bold to us. Is Jeremiah honestly accusing the Lord of tricking him? Some translations say “seduced” or “deceived.” Does the Lord trick us?
My favorite story about this reading comes from a bishop I know. When he was ordained to the diaconate, he was told to pick the readings for the Mass. He chose the daily Mass readings – perhaps without looking to see what they were. This was the first reading. I am sure he has thought of that many times throughout his priesthood and now episcopacy, whenever the Lord’s call becomes heavy. You duped me, Lord…
Jeremiah was called by the Lord when he was a young man (Jeremiah 1:6). He spent his life doing the Lord’s work, but it doesn’t mean his life was without suffering. Much the contrary, as we see in this short passage. Jeremiah’s frank and honest prayer to the Lord reveals that he has suffered for the Lord’s call.
Many new Christians have expressed surprise when life becomes harder after baptism. After a big conversion in their lives, they begin to eradicate vice and embrace the Christian life. It seems to follow that life will get better, right? If I’m following the Lord, won’t He reward that?
Instead, it often seems that following the Lord means bigger crosses. How is this fair?
The Christian life is the life of the Cross. A life in service to the Lord is not without reward, but it’s also not without suffering. And this is what Jeremiah has found. He feels deceived because the Lord has called him, he was obedient, and now his life is miserable. We’ve all had these moments, right? How is this fair?
There are two things in particular that I love about this passage.
Real and Honest Prayer
I think sometimes we believe we need flowery language if we’re going to try to pray. We need to find just the right words, spoken just the right way. We think we must tread lightly and not anger God with the wrong sentiment.
But Jeremiah’s prayer is real. He doesn’t mince words. It’s beautifully said, but it’s terribly honest. Don’t be afraid to express what is in your heart to our Lord. Think of Abraham’s bold bargaining with God over the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33). He was not afraid to speak to God about what was on his heart. God already knows; He wants us to tell Him.
Take time to pray the Psalms. You’ll find plenty of raw emotion in those prayers. We shouldn’t be afraid to pour out our anger, sorrow, and confusion to God. But our prayer doesn’t stay there.
In both the Psalms and in the prayer of Jeremiah, the anger and confusion always moves towards praise and trust. This doesn’t mean we’ll feel like trusting the Lord. Perhaps sorrow seems to have pitched its tent in our hearts and isn’t budging. We can still make an act of faith.
In the middle of his lament, Jeremiah admits, “But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion…” (20:11). Of course, that doesn’t change his situation immediately (and Jeremiah continues to lament), but it shows us he hasn’t despaired.
“It is impossible for us not to speak…”
Jeremiah’s (somewhat frustrating) conclusion reminds me of the scene in Acts of the Apostles when Peter and John are ordered not to speak of Jesus. They respond that it’s impossible. They can’t help but speak of what they’ve seen and heard.
It seems that Jeremiah would like nothing better than to ignore the Lord’s mission. It has brought him “derision and reproach all the day.”
But he can’t hold it in. The Lord’s mission in your life might bring suffering. It certainly did in the lives of Jeremiah, Peter, and John. But that doesn’t mean life is better if we ignore the Lord. Once we realize what He has done for us, once we see Who He is and who we are not, once we hear His call … life can never be the same.
The Call of the Cross
He has seduced us. He has drawn us to Himself, and we have found joy in Him. When the crosses come, we may be tempted to flee. Perhaps we were wrong to trust Him. Maybe we were wrong to answer the call.
But in that strange contradiction of the Christian life, the crosses are what bring us freedom. The answer to Jeremiah’s lament is in the Gospel reading that follows this Sunday: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).
That’s the call of discipleship, the call of the prophets, the call of baptism. The Lord calls; we answer; the crosses come. But as the crosses come, so does freedom. As we lose our lives, we find them.
Jeremiah is right: “I cannot endure it.” If there’s any lesson spiritual maturity has brought to me, it’s that. I cannot endure the crosses that come with following God. But I also cannot endure a life that does not follow Him.
That’s why God became man. To endure it with us. To endure it for us.
Let yourself be duped.
Image credit: “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” (detail) | Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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