This Sunday and next we will be hearing about the vocational
calling of two prophets – Jeremiah today and Isaiah next Sunday. The
gospel today shows the parallel between Jesus’ mission and that of
his prophetic predecessors, as he tells the synagogue congregation
who heard and rejected him, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is
accepted in their own native place."
In the Hebrew Scriptures there are accounts of the calls of Moses
(Ex 3:1-4), Isaiah (6:1-13), Ezekiel (1-3), and others ordained by
God for special missions. The calls are personal and involve
encounters with God. Those who receive the call are commissioned to
speak for God to the recalcitrant people. Most of those called
initially resist their vocation, often with a protest of
unworthiness. God has to reassure them that for their difficult
task, God will be with them.
I would have preferred today’s reading include Jeremiah’s initial
resistance: "‘Ah, Lord God,’ I said, ‘I know not how to speak; I am
too young.’" Perhaps it wasn’t just his youth and inexperience that
gave Jeremiah hesitation when God called him, but his knowledge of
what happens to God’s prophets – they are rejected and even killed
by the very people to whom they are sent.
God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet while he was still in the
womb. Who’s in charge here? God is! As God is in all prophetic
calls. It is clear why this passage was chosen today. It matches
Jesus’ description of his prophetic mission, which is the second
half of his sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. Jeremiah’s mission
was to be a "prophet to the nations." Jesus outraged his listeners
because he described his mission as reaching out beyond his Jewish
community to non-Jews as well – "the nations."
Jeremiah could easily have deduced his task was going to be
difficult and that he would meet opposition. Why else would God have
to promise to make him, "a fortified city," "a pillar of iron," "a
wall of brass"? What’s unique in Jeremiah’s call was it came, not
through a heavenly vision, but through an encounter with God’s word.
"The word of the Lord came to me saying…."
Let’s not put the biblical prophets aside, or on a pedestal,
claiming that they were unique, or rare cases. At our baptism we
were all anointed by the Spirit to be "priest, prophet, and
royalty." The prophet speaks the truth to power; is the voice of the
voiceless and stands up against injustice – not only in society, but
in the church as well.
Jeremiah heard his call through God’s word. And he heard more.
Since he would face opposition, God promised to be with him and make
him, "a pillar of iron, a wall of brass." The prophetic task is not
an easy one, as Jesus reminds us today, "No prophet is accepted in
their own native place." Each of us is to discern how God might be
calling us to be a voice for God in our world.
Jeremiah offers us guidance and encouragement. Like him our
vocation is first to listen to God’s word. It’s the word proclaimed
to us each time we gather in worship. That same word also speaks to
us during times of personal reflection, as well as periods of
listening – not only to the Scriptures, but to God speaking to us in
our world and the world of nature. What is God saying to you during
these listening times? Do you hear a call? How shall you respond?
Draw courage from what Jeremiah says to us today: God will be with
us as our strength and ally.
It’s clear from today’s readings that, while we might be friends
of God, that won’t automatically make us friends of our
contemporaries. It seems those whose lives show an intimate
relationship with God also stir up envy and hostility from others.
Jesus is a good example of the ire a prophet can cause among their
relatives and neighbors.
Today’s gospel is the second part of the sermon in the synagogue
– we heard the first part last Sunday. As today’s passage suggests
Jesus thinks his neighbors expect a demonstration of the famed works
he performed in Capernaum and other Jewish cities. Their familiarity
can blind them to Jesus’ true powers and presence among them. Jesus
challenges them to look beyond the limits of Israel to the wider
world of the Gentiles and reminds them that pagans were open to the
prophets: Jonah’s neighbors did not accept him, but the foreigners
of Nineveh and the Queen of the South did. The pagan widow of
Zarephath welcomed Elijah, but not his own people. So it goes for
prophets: familiarity seems to breed resistance.
The people of Nazareth wanted special favors and attention from
their native son. Do the people who attend church regularly also
expect special consideration from God? Do we think our good status
deserves priority before God? Our prophetic voices, Jeremiah and
Jesus, remind us today not to box God into any expected ways of
acting. Rather, as Peter said to the Gentile Cornelius, "In truth, I
see that God shows no partiality rather, in every nation whoever
fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to God." (Feast of the
Baptism of the Lord: Acts 10:34-38)
No one people, religion, or nation, possesses God. We need to
reflect on and challenge our own tradition and exclusive attitudes
towards God. That’s one of the things that prophets do, as unpopular
as that can be.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: