Jeremiah cries out in anguish and writhes in pain for his people and for his world. He did not have the newspapers, television, radio, or internet to inform him of the precarious state of his world. He could see it and he did not divorce himself from it.
This pain is from two directions. He embodies, to the extent he can, the pain of God at being rejected. Likewise, he experiences the pain of the people.
It is truly priestly pain.
He sees disaster looming ... disaster and destruction.
He cannot bear it.
On that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded. Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, 'It shall be well with you,' even while the sword is at the throat!" At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse-- a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them. Look! He comes up like clouds, his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles-- woe to us, for we are ruined! O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved. How long shall your evil schemes lodge within you? For a voice declares from Dan and proclaims disaster from Mount Ephraim. Tell the nations, "Here they are!" Proclaim against Jerusalem, "Besiegers come from a distant land; they shout against the cities of Judah. They have closed in around her like watchers of a field, because she has rebelled against me, says the LORD. Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your doom; how bitter it is! It has reached your very heart." My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? "For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good." I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger. For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.
Paul takes up the spirit of the moment in today's lenten reading from the Epistles. He identifies the problem as the human condition of sin and universalizes it. It was not just the Jews. It was not just the pagans. All participate in the cursed crux of the matter. All have entered into the realm of sin and signed on the dotted line.
All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."
Then, we hear from Jesus, who came not to condemn but to save from that which has condemned us already. He steps into the agony and destruction with a simple word of redemptive love, reminding us that God is working and that appointed our Savior and defense attorney as our judge.
Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
The Highest High priest, like Jeremiah, enters into the arena of Divine and human pain and absorbs it all with an intent to liberate and bring life out of death. He is no stranger to disaster. He is not oblivious to the destructive nature of our attitudes and behaviors. He is neither blind nor death to our bombastic declarations of nationalistic superiority, our utter disregard for the poor, our stupor-driven, staggering advance toward destruction, nor our frenzied grabs for power and lustful accumulation of useless stuff.
He knows and yet, He declares a call to hope and salvation that is clear enough to lead us to prayer and praise through this morning's Psalms:
Psalm 70 Deus, in adjutorium
1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; *
O LORD, make haste to help me.
2 Let those who seek my life be ashamed and altogether dismayed; *
let those who take pleasure in my misfortune draw back and be disgraced.
3 Let those who say to me "Aha!" and gloat over me turn back, *
because they are ashamed.
4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; *
let those who love your salvation say for ever, "Great is the LORD!"
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; *
come to me speedily, O God.
6 You are my helper and my deliverer; *
O LORD, do not tarry.
Psalm 71 In te, Domine, speravi
1 In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O LORD God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.
7 I have become a portent to many; *
but you are my refuge and my strength.
8 Let my mouth be full of your praise *
and your glory all the day long.
9 Do not cast me off in my old age; *
forsake me not when my strength fails.
10 For my enemies are talking against me, *
and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together.
11 They say, "God has forsaken him; go after him and seize him; *
because there is none who will save."
12 O God, be not far from me; *
come quickly to help me, O my God.
13 Let those who set themselves against me be put to shame and be disgraced; *
let those who seek to do me evil be covered with scorn and reproach.
14 But I shall always wait in patience, *
and shall praise you more and more.
15 My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds all day long; *
though I cannot know the number of them.
16 I will begin with the mighty works of the Lord GOD; *
I will recall your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, you have taught me since I was young, *
and to this day I tell of your wonderful works.
18 And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation and your power to all who are to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens; *
you have done great things; who is like you, O God?
20 You have showed me great troubles and adversities, *
but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth.
21 You strengthen me more and more; *
you enfold and comfort me,
22 Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God; *
I will sing to you with the harp, O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, *
and so will my soul, which you have redeemed.
24 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, *
for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm.