The prophet Jeremiah lived through horrific times and endured great pain in his ministry. He prophesied during the final years of Judah before the country was taken into Babylonian exile, a traumatic event he lived to see. The kings of his day were mostly corrupt and divided their loyalty between Egypt and Babylon instead of depending on God. With several notable and delightful exceptions, much of Jeremiah’s prophesy spells out doom for Judah for turning away from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Perhaps not surprisingly, his messages were not warmly welcomed. The people of his day despised the prophet for his warnings about God’s judgement and tried on at least one occasion to kill him just to shut him up.
While the content of Jeremiah’s oracles are indeed significant, it’s their tone that repeatedly strikes me. You might think Jeremiah enjoyed announcing the destruction of such a wicked people who caused him such misery, that he had a smug, I-can-hardly-wait-until-God-judges-you attitude.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jeremiah is often referred to as “the weeping prophet,” and accurately so. He often expresses anguish over the words God instructs him to speak. It’s as though he says, “Oh, Lord, please say this isn’t true!” Take Jeremiah 4:19 for example, where Jeremiah sees Judah crushed under the Babylonian war machine:
Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
—- I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
—- My heart pounds within me,
—- I cannot keep silent.
For I have heard the sound of the trumpet;
—- I have heard the battle cry.
I’m about halfway through rereading Jeremiah, but have found at least three more instances of Jeremiah having a profound emotional reaction to the words he’s called to proclaim (see: Jer 8:21-9:1; 13:17; and 23:9-10).
My sermon this past week was about the harm caused by pornography and the healing grace we find in Jesus. I suppose I could have stood in front of the people and said, “If you look at pornography, you are bad, and I personally cannot wait until I see God smite you for your sin!” However, I’d rather be like Jeremiah, feeling anguish for people who struggle with addictions, or who are grieving, or whose marriages are disintegrating, or who are lost. Pastors are called to come alongside people in their hardships – to weep with those who weep. When necessary, they are also called to point out the harmful error of a person’s ways. They do it because they care deeply and, at the same time, want to show by example what it means for Christians (regardless of vocation) to be the presence of Jesus.
Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. He serves as a model for the weeping pastor, a “title” I think I would be honoured to be known by.
”Jeremiah” colour lithograph by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Found online at Spaightwood Galleries.