August 12, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
“I have come to set the earth on fire.”
Introduction: Jeremiah is a figure out of the Old Testament who was called to “root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.” (1:10) Sometimes prophets have been described as persons who are to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Because the prophets and Jesus did these things they caused some division.
Jeremiah is an interesting prophet. His book is full of external sufferings. But more than any other prophet we gain entrance to hisinternal struggles. We have heard today just a small piece of the prophet Jeremiah’s story. He was thrown into a cistern. Since there was no water in the cistern he sunk into the mud. I remember walking down into a cistern when I visited Israel. I took a picture from the bottom. This was the way Jeremiah viewed the world for a time.
Jeremiah endured many other external sufferings. He denounced the pagan practices of the priests and citizens and dramatically smashed an earthenware jar crying out, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so it can never be mended.” (Jer. 19:11) For preaching thus he was flogged (scourged) and placed in the stocks.
In another symbolic act Jeremiah put on a wooden yoke. Another prophet broke the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck saying that thus the Lord would break the yoke of the king of Babylon from the people’s neck. But Jeremiah said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: A yoke of iron I will place on the necks of all these nations serving the king of Babylon, and they shall serve him; even the beasts of the field I give him.”
There were conspiracies against his life in his own town (11:18-23; 18:18) “For even your own brothers, the members of your father’s house, betray you.” (12:6) For announcing the destruction of the temple he wastried for blasphemy; he escaped condemnation. Once when he left the city to take part in the division of an inheritance, he was accused of being a deserter and imprisoned.
But the book of Jeremiah offers us the most moving revelation of hisinner conflicts. He emerges as a lonely and sensitive figure. As solitary people do, he communed with nature. He had a special affinity with the world of birds. But Jeremiah was also plagued by self doubt and at times overcome by a sense of futility.
At the prospect of coming destruction we hear his own anguish: “My breast, my breast! How I suffer! The walls of my heart! My heart beats wildly, I cannot be still; for I have heard the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.”
He grieves over the People’s suffering: chapter 8: 18, 21, 23 “My grief is incurable, my heart within me is faint. ¼ I am broken by the ruin of the daughter of my people. I am disconsolate; horror has seized me. ¼Oh that my head were a spring of water, my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night over the slain of the daughter of my people.”
His reactions fluctuated between a human desire to be revenged on his persecutors, a need for reassurance from his divine master, and an urge to withdraw 9:1 “Would that I had in the desert a travelers’ lodge! That I might leave my people and depart from them.”
He prayed, “Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth! A man of strife and contention to all the land! I neither borrow nor lend, yet all curse me. Tell me, Lord, have I not served you for their good? Have I not interceded with you in the time of misfortune and anguish? You know I have.” 15:10ff
Notice how Jeremiah talks with God: “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide.” (15:18) Jeremiah sees God as a brook that dries up when its water is needed.
In Chapter 20 we have a very developed picture of the interior crisis that Jeremiah went through: “You duped me, O lord and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it. Yes I hear the whisperings of many; ‘error on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.”
“Cursed be the day on which I was born! May the day my mother gave birth never be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father saying, ‘A child, a son, has been born to you.’ Filling him with great joy.”
In chapter 31 Jeremiah gives the promise of a New Covenant. This promise ends with these words, “All, from least to greatest shall know me, says the Lord for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” 31:34b
The Gospel words of Jesus “I have come to set the earth on fire…” are exemplified in the Life of Jeremiah. In this Gospel passage Jesus came not to establish peace but rather division. This would seem to be in contradiction to the message of Jesus. He was a peace maker and yet his teaching and example caused division. Jesus’ teaching was peace, but the effects of his teaching were division. How have I experienced the words of Jesus or the life experiences of Jeremiah in my own life?
19th C+ ready for action & called to service
Luke 12:35 “Gird your loins and light your lamps…”
Exodus 12: 11 “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand, and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord.”
Tie up the robe to be ready for action.
It is also an expression for readiness for service. (Reid, Parables p. 149
Luke 22:27 Jesus asks “who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at the table? I am among you as the one who serves.”
John 13:4 Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
John 21: 7 “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘it is the Lord’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.”.
John 21:18 to Peter after threefold questioning conversation “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.