The Confessions of Jeremiah

Today we being at Morning Prayer a series of readings that we shall hear continued on Friday of this week and on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday of next week, that compose what are described as “The Confessions of Jeremiah”.  We have been reading from his prophecy for some time, and continue to do so until the eve of Holy Week.  However, the readings on the days that I list above contain passages that are special in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, because, unusually, they reveal the inner turmoil of Jeremiah’s heart, starting today with Jeremiah 11: 18 to 12:6.

We may ask, “What is happening to the prophet that is being opened to us?”  What we are being shown is the struggle between his calling and his faithfulness to his mission on the one hand, and his mental distress caused by the carrying out of his calling on the other.  Today Jeremiah admits to feeling like a gentle lamb being led to slaughter.  He reflects sorrowfully that he simply didn’t know that people were plotting against him.  He questions within himself how it is that the treacherous thrive.  He opens his heart to the Lord, saying, “You know my heart; you see me; you try my mind.”  

The utter honesty of this passage is disarming, but even more so is the anguish revealed in this coming Friday’s passage - Jeremiah 15: 10 to end.  In those verses Jeremiah is dwelling on God’s words. He thinks of the joy and delight with which he feels the hand of the Lord upon him, but then comes the pain and the wounding and the state of his heart that somehow cannot be healed.

These are powerful passages, and we shall have more next week.  They remind us straight away of the the lament we experience in some of the psalms, with an outpouring of grief at the need for deliverance, coupled with the claim of innocence in the face of tribulation.  For us they are an opportunity to experience the inner workings of a soul close to God, but one in the midst of deep distress as well.  They transfer easily into the contemporary situation today, as human nature has not changed; nor has our ability to apprehend God and be sensitive to one another and to beauty, or humanity’s tendency to sinful failure, arrogant manipulation and abuse.

John Mann