You may recall that when God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, he tried to avoid the call by protesting that he was too young. God reassured him that God would be with him and that he would be given the words to speak. Unfortunately for Jeremiah, the words that God gave him were harsh words: he was to warn the Israelites that unless they turned from their wicked ways, God would deliver them into the hands of their enemies and they would be carried into captivity.
Needless to say, this message was not popular with the people or with their leaders, and Jeremiah soon found himself under attack. The leaders plotted against him and agreed not to heed any of his words. At one point, even his family threatened to kill him if he did not stop preaching these harsh words.
We find Jeremiah in today’s reading in a place of deep discouragement. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed,” he complains; “You have overpowered me and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me… For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and a derision all day long.” And yet, when he determines to remain silent, he finds he cannot bear it. There is within him “something like a burning fire” that he cannot hold in. He has to do this work and speak this word that God has given him. He cannot keep still.
Jesus is having an equally bad day in the reading today from John’s gospel. His opponents too are threatening to kill him. He finds himself on the defensive, arguing to preserve his life, defending his actions and words. But they will not believe him. They will not heed his message or even acknowledge the good that he has done. They are determined to arrest him and in the end he has to escape from their hands.
We can imagine the profound discouragement that Jeremiah and Jesus felt in the face of the stubborn and aggressive opposition of their enemies. We can imagine what a temptation it must have been for them to throw in the towel, to call it quits, to simply abandon the mission and forsake the cause. There is not one of us who hasn’t been tempted to quit in the face of apathy or outright opposition. Sometimes we feel we’re getting nowhere. Sometimes we’re just tired of bearing the load. Sometimes we want the things we have had to give up in order to answer God’s call. Sometimes there are enemies poised against us, people who speak ill of us, some who may even hate us. And some days it’s all too much.
But there is a voice deep within us that calls us on. It may be “something like a burning fire,” as Jeremiah described it. It may be a strong conviction that, in spite of the difficulty of the path we are on, it is the right path for us. We know it and cannot escape it. It may comfort and inspire us to see the perseverance of Jeremiah and of Jesus in the face of trouble, to witness how some have remained true to their call no matter what the cost. We may, as our community’s Rule of Life suggests, find inspiration in the witness of the martyrs.
If you are tempted today to give up, to opt out, to call it quits – as a Christian, or as a parent, or as a spouse, or as an employee, or as a friend – listen for the voice deep within you that is calling you on. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” it says. “I will be with you, and my strength will sustain you.”
“The Lord is my light and my salvation,” the psalmist proclaims, “whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh – my adversaries and foes – they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident… For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock… Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27)
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