Wednesday in Lent 3
Morning Office Readings: Psalm 119:97-120; Jeremiah 8:18-9:6; Romans 5:1-11; John 8:12-20
In seminary, it was a big thing to claim the adjective “prophetic”; it felt like everyone wanted to be prophetic
in their ministries, in their preaching, in their vision. Prophetic
, the way it was used, seemed much narrower than the biblical breadth of what prophets looked like. Prophetic
was like obscenity; no one could really define it, but folks jumped to name it when they saw it. Prophetic
often seemed to have to do with the political, with justice, with “calling out” iniquity (and inequity, too, I guess) in an echo of the displeasure we imagine to be God’s. It’s a good and holy and important part of our tradition. When the prophetic is done well, we get Amos; we get Moses—the lovely, all-too-human frustrated Moses in the wilderness; we get the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And I get the appeal—after all, I’ve always had a little crush on John the Baptist, that preacher’s kid with the wild hair—but I’ve also accepted that while I am so grateful for those who are called in this way, the prophetic is not really my gift—at least not in that way. I tend to make issues too complicated to preach about them succinctly; I’m more comfortable in one-on-one conversation than I am holding a megaphone. Last week at the prison in Jackson we waited for a scheduled execution: I balked at carrying a sign, but I sure was glad to pray by the light of the Paschal Candle.
Which is why I’m delighted by Jeremiah today. Jeremiah, for a week and a half, has been preaching wrath and repentence; gloom and doom. And yet here we see a shift in the prophet’s posture; he stands not in opposition his people, but weeps in the midst of them: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” Being a prophet is not fun; he takes no joy in the task to which he is called. Jeremiah genuinely grieves for and with his people. He is not just the voice of one who cries out in the wilderness; Jeremiah hears his people
cry out, asking where God is in the midst of their sorrow and struggle.
And make no mistake; this not just a priest or a preacher thing; all of us, through our baptism, are joined to Christ’s ministry: prophet, priest and king. I wonder if our people—our families, our communities, our neighbors, our friends—I wonder if our people are more able to hear the hard truths we have to tell when we’ve been down in the dust lamenting with them. I wonder if we hear the hard truths better from one we know has struggled with us, walked alongside us, been called from our midst.
Like I said, part of Jesus’s ministry was to be a prophet. Is this another way to think about the incarnation? Jesus could call us to a new kind of life because he came to be with us in the dust, in the very midst of human-ness. Can we hear the word of truth he tells us? Can we speak it when we are called?