No room for personal creativity in this job profile – Wednesday, 16th Week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10

No room for personal creativity in this job profile – Wednesday, 16th Week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10

We begin our study of the prophet Jeremiah who ministered for 40 years from the reign of King Josiah through the reigns of King Jehoiakim and till the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah under whom the people of Judah went into exile under the Babylonians.

In the year 622/621 the Book of the Law was found during the restoration of the temple. As a consequence, King Josiah led a religious reform in Judah (2 Chronicles 34:3). It is in this time that God called Jeremiah to minister to his people. Jeremiah hailed from a priestly family and lived in Anathoth, which was a small village about three miles from Jerusalem. It was in the land of Benjamin but given over as a priestly city (Joshua 21:18). God called these two giants; King Josiah and the prophet Jeremiah to serve Him and His people at the same time.

But in 609 BC this glorious period ended with King Josiah’s death in battle at the hand of Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23;29). He was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz, who reigned only three months before being deposed by Pharaoh Neco. Neco then made Josiah’s son, Eliakim, king and changed his name to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:31-34). The reform of King Josiah was quickly eclipsed by a universal return to idolatry. At this stage Judah was a vassal of Egypt. Jeremiah denounced the idolatry and displayed tremendous faithfulness and courage in the face of great discouragement, opposition and small results.

Then the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 and King Jehoichim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin who was exiled by the Babylonians never to return. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon replaced him with his uncle, King Zedekiah. Zedekiah had two choices, to be a vassal of Babylon or side with Babylon’s enemy, Egypt. He chose the latter who again besieged Jerusalem in 588 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar was forced to lift the siege temporarily to meet a threat from Egypt, giving the people of Jerusalem false hope that they would be saved. However, Nebuchadnezzar returned after dealing with the Egyptians, laid siege to Jerusalem once more, and in 587 B.C. breached the walls, destroyed the city, killed many of the residents, and took the rest into exile in Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar had King Zedekiah’s sons killed before his eyes were gorged out

With this historical background in mind we are introduced to the call of Jeremiah. God tells Jeremiah that he shared an intimacy with Jeremiah before he was already formed in the womb. The word ‘knew’ in Hebrew is ‘yada’ and signifies an intimacy similar to that of a married couple. It was here in the womb that God ‘consecrated’ Jeremiah. The word consecrated translates as ‘qadas’ and indicates that something or someone is set apart; like the sabbath is ‘qadas’ or set apart from other days. Jeremiah was already consecrated for God’s work. Finally God ‘appointed’ him to be a prophet (nabi). Once again the Hebrew translation of the word ‘appointed’ gives us an insight into God’s actions. Jeremiah was ‘nathan’ or ‘given’ or ‘put into place’ by God’s will to be a prophet not just to Judah but to all the nations.

Jeremiah protests and his protest is sincere. “Truly” he says, “I do not know how to speak”. One should not look at Jeremiah as being wavering in response to God’s call. Mary too, had her questions, “how can this come about since I am a virgin?” Jeremiah was no stranger to the unfolding events on the international scene around him. To be called to speak to the nations was not a call to stand at a prestigious podium at the united nations. This was not some politically correct address to world leaders in tidied suits. This was going to be a tough message to a stiff necked people. And to quote Jeremiah, “he was but a youth.” The word youth in Hebrew is ‘na’ar’ which specifically tells us that he was in his early twenties. Who would take Jeremiah, a preachers son seriously, while nations were being knocked around in battle likes pawns on a chess board.

Though Jeremiah’s protest was true, it was irrelevant and God did not want to hear it, nor did God want Jeremiah to say it. God insists on His right to call young people and to use them if they will listen to His call and answer it. Jeremiah is simply told to zip it! He is to go to whom ‘God sends him’ and ‘speak whatever God commands.’ This is not a job profile with scope for personal creativity!

Yet those comforting words, found in sacred scripture ever so often are heard once again from the lips of God, “do not be afraid of them.” Jeremiah felt inadequate and unable to do such a mighty work of being a prophet to the nation. But God did not intend Jeremiah to do this job in his own strength. He intended to equip Jeremiah for the task. God is not looking for ability, but is looking for avail-ability. It is possible to feel inadequate as a young person because we do not have the necessary training or skills. Hence, in (1 Tim 4:12) Paul tells Timothy: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called. God will Himself equip you and train you for the task that He has called you. Because you have Christ in you, you will be able to do all things through Him, so do not fear (see Phil 4:13).

God’s choice is not unique to Jeremiah; it is true for every believer. This is known as the doctrine of divine election. “You did not choose me,” Jesus said to his disciples, “but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:3-4). This promise is for the whole church. Therefore, it is for the comfort of every Christian. God not only knows you, he chose you; and he did so long before you were ever conceived.

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