‘I am disconsolate, horror has seized me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah, 8: 21-22)
Prophets more often than not hate being prophets. Driven and compelled to cry out, Jeremiah’s words estranged him from his own community.
His incessant warnings and dire predictions almost had him executed.
Jeremiah was born into a troubled time. The late 7th century and early 6th century BC saw the superpowers of the day Egypt and Babylon contenting for suzerainty over the Middle East.
The kings of Judah tried very unsuccessfully to play the small hand they had been given in the regional power politics game playing out around them.
They lurched back and forth from seeking an alliance with one to asking protection from the other.
From 13 years of age on reluctantly Jeremiah warned of the impending disasters facing his people. But an early verse in the Book of Jeremiah has the Lord saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Poor Jeremiah had little option, prophesying was in his blood and bones.
Needless to say, the powers that were didn’t listen to his pleas for peaceful submission to Babylonian rule under Nebuchadnezzar.
It seems that this foreign ruler, this follower of Marduk, god of Babylon, had been chosen as the agent of Yahweh. “I will send to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, my servant; I will bring them against this land.” (Jeremiah 25:9)
And bring them Yahweh did. Judah rebelled in 597 and the army of Nebuchadnezzar swept over the land. Eight thousand exiles made the forced march back to Babylon.
The aristocracy, military and skilled artisans became the first group of deportees.
Ten years later, Jeremiah witnessed the scene unfold again despite his repeated warnings. This time Nebuchadnezzar showed no mercy. His army razed Jerusalem, temple and all, to the ground.
More deportees were carried off into Babylonian exile. Jeremiah stayed among the ruins eventually though he spent his last days exiled as well but in Egypt. He considered his life a failure.
Karen Armstrong, renowned religious studies author, has recently published a book entitled The Great Transformation. She has a different take on Jeremiah.
“His name has become a byword for exaggerated pessimism, but Jeremiah was not being ‘negative.’ He was right. His unflinching and courageous stand expressed one of the essential principles of the Axial Age: people must see things as they really are.
“They could not function spiritually or practically if they buried their heads in the sand and refused to face the truth, however painful and frightening this might be.”
Who are our Jeremiah’s today?
What inconvenient truths do they prick our comfortable certitudes with?
Are the suffering and bloodshed in Iraq, Afghanistan and a dozen other global conflict zones signs for us today that war is not the answer?
Maybe we should be voting next week for the territorial politicians that tell us the hard, inconvenient truths.
Probably there was an emerging prophet or two among the hundreds of young people that helped out on the Maryhouse food drive this week.
If we’d listen, they’d surely tell what we need to do to avoid approaching social and environmental disasters.
Maybe this weekend in our family grace over the turkey or tofu we should pause to give thanks for inconvenient truths.
By the way, if they missed you, you can always drop off a bag of non-perishable directly at Maryhouse at 6th and Cook Street to help support their food program.
Al Gore’s acclaimed documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim screens at the Qwanlin Cinema Sunday and Monday at 6:45 p.m.
Gore argues in it “that we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue — rather, it is the biggest moral challenge facing our global civilization.”