A prophet is a man with a dangerous mission. He is not called to singlehandedly rescue the beautiful princess from the tower, nor to save the world from the killer aliens. The mission of the prophet is far more dangerous because, even though his life will be at risk at every moment, he is not to take any weapons to defend himself.
The prophet is called to stand, unarmed, in the market place, in the church, on the radio or on the television and – speak the word of God.
Jeremiah was a prophet. He was called by God. This is the hallmark of every true prophet, that he is called and commissioned by God himself. You won’t find ‘prophet’ in the list of the government’s career choices for school leavers.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.
Before Jeremiah has time to draw one self-congratulatory breath God makes it clear this is not to be an all-expenses paid junket, like those so popular with some of our politicians. So now brace yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you.
Jeremiah is to ‘brace himself for action’ – not only the action of standing up and speaking the word - but the action that will follow when he does so. No doubt our Federal Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott would understand what I’m talking about.
Stand up and tell them all I command you. It’s the ‘standing up’ which is so often our first difficulty, to put our head above the crowd, to climb the stage of public scrutiny and there speak to a godless world a word which comes from God. Not many have the courage either to obey the command or to suffer the consequences. Thank God for his courageous prophets! Thank God for Tony Abbott!
Before moving on we need to be attentive to the force of that little word all which the Lord addresses to Jeremiah: Stand up and tell them all I command you.
After listening to a protestant Christian give a rather lengthy explanation of his faith a priest friend of mine replied, ‘What you say is the truth; there’s just not enough of it.’
How often have we listened to our religious leaders (of all persuasions) preaching the word of God and then, like a horse baulking at a jump, stop short of the very heart of the message so as not to give offence? To preach the message is one thing; to preach the whole message is entirely another.
The prophetic call is a summons to courage: Do not be dismayed at their presence, or in their presence I will make you dismayed. God will never require of us something for which he does not strengthen us. As the proverb goes: God’s Will will not take you where his grace cannot keep you.
Jeremiah is commanded to speak God’s word of truth to the nations. This word is everything God promises to make Jeremiah: a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze… Jeremiah’s strength, and ultimately his very life, will depend on his faithfulness to the prophetic commission of speaking the invincible truth of God.
Although our reading does not include his response to God’s call it is fitting to remind ourselves that Jeremiah already had the necessary predispositions required of a prophet: Ah, Lord God; look, I do not know how to speak: I am a child! St Paul would have replied, ‘Yes, Jeremiah, you are only a child, but God’s grace is enough for you: his power is at its best in weakness' (c.f. 2Cor 12:9)
Nothing humbles the proud and mighty more than being overcome by weakness: They will fight against you but shall not overcome you. The seeds of defeat are already planted in the tireless efforts of the mighty to sweep away the truth and the prophets who preach it. No one can destroy truth and if they destroy the prophet it is only a ‘temporary’ setback. We must all die but not all will rise to eternal joy in the Master’s kingdom.
Our Master, too, came as a prophet and suffered the prophet’s fate, but with this difference – Jeremiah spoke the word - Jesus is the Word. This is the essence of the delightful ambiguity with which our first reading ends: It is the Lord who speaks.