In the middle of it
Jeremiah 20: 7-18 (NRSV)
7 O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
10 For I hear many whispering:
“Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
“Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him.”
11 But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
12 O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
13 Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.
14 Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man
who brought the news to my father, saying,
“A child is born to you, a son,”
making him very glad.
16 Let that man be like the cities
that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
17 because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb forever great.
18 Why did I come forth from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?
To understand the Old Testament you have to accept that God is in charge, that good and evil both happen on God’s watch, so God is responsible and can be accused — as Jeremiah accuses God — of overpowering him, of burning him up with a message that will be despised, of even being capable of terminating his life in the womb (not that God actually did, of course). The New Testament modifies this with the good news that for the person with a call from God, all things work together for good — but when we are in the pits, it’s as well to know that Jeremiah was there long before us; but all the same to recognise that his dire situation of gloom and self-pity has been a word of wisdom to readers of the Bible in every age, even though Jeremiah himself had a life which petered out among a disobedient crowd in Egypt. The ways of God are strange, but wonderful.
We don’t know whether it was Jeremiah himself who suddenly thrust his fist in the air with a ‘praise the Lord’ in verse 13, or whether an editor decided that we needed a little something to cheer us up at this point, but in verse 14 the prophet returns to curse the day of his birth, like Job after his friends have sat with him for seven days and nights. There is no comfort at the end of the chapter, but it was a Middle Eastern literary custom sometimes to put the climax in the middle of a story, so maybe verse 13 is intended that way — just as the blink of light in Lamentations comes not at the end, but in the middle.
Today we remember those with a difficult message:
Speaking of God’s love when everyone wants to bash sinners
Warning of judgment when everyone has their hands in the air
Calling out the sins of the powerful
Holding silence while others work through trauma
Gulping belief in God when atheism is being force fed
And always, when full of words or when stuck for words, saying the Lord’s Prayer.