Biblical Words 
God calls prophets to deliver news both bad and good, but even good news can be a threat to privileged home folks.
The prophetic reading is the report, in the first person, of Jeremiah’s appointment as a prophet. The readings of the lectionary for this period are still concerned with beginnings, beginning assignments for God’s work in both judgment and salvation.
Jeremiah experienced God’s call as something he was fated to before he was even a glint in the priest Hilkiah’s eye (see 1:1). The language is impressive:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew
you (verse 5,
The mystery of his own personal being – which Jeremiah will discover God treats as his own property, whatever Jeremiah may want – is part of a larger plan that is working out the destinies of peoples and nations.
Thus, Jeremiah has been consecrated, set aside for a holy use, before he even appeared on the human scene. Which, translated into career terms, means Jeremiah has been appointed “a prophet to the nations” (verse 5).
His – as it turns out – very long
career of delivering hard messages and living through the consequences has to
do with the nations. That is,
it has to do with world history, the great powers on the horizon as well as the
pesky and competing small-power neighbors all around the
As Jeremiah recalled his experience by hindsight, he had tried hard to avoid that call. “I’m a mere adolescent,” he pleaded! In his memory, there was also some concrete act (probably an induction ritual of some kind) by which God transmitted the power of speech to him (verse 9). This power would tyrannize over, as well as empower, Jeremiah. (He complains of the tyranny in 20:7-10.) Jeremiah is also repeatedly assured that he should not fear, because God will be with him – and that will be enough.
So what is all this for? What is the prophetic office to do?
God provides a prophet and repeatedly gives oracles because the looming disaster and doom is not meaningless – it is not random and senseless destruction and disaster. It is the judgment of God, with a will and even a compassion behind it.
These things, both the judgment and the compassion, are pointed to by the statement of Jeremiah’s assignment:
Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant (verse 10).
Four out of six verbs refer to coming destruction; two – the last two – refer to restoration and renewal. The heavy message is up front, but there is some hope for those who survive the deluge.
This Psalm reading looks to many commentators like something Jeremiah would have composed.
The speaker prays for protection
from adversaries. Part of the appeal for
help is based on the speaker’s attachment to the Lord since before birth –
through pre-natal dedication, as in the case of Hannah’s consecration of Samuel
(I Samuel 1)? Both the language and the
thoughts of this reading recur often in the book of Jeremiah, for example, in
This reading, echoing Jeremiah, shows that God’s call may lead to opposition, to dangerous adversaries. God’s servant prays for deliverance, though knowing that suffering and trouble come with the job – sometimes even unto death.
I Corinthians 13:1-13.
The Epistle reading continues the discussion of charismatic gifts and the Body of Christ.
The previous discussion has included prominently the gift of prophecy, but there is something greater than prophecy. This passage, which treats this “more excellent way” in the loftiest and most eloquent language, is devoted to the supreme gift of the Spirit, agape, translated in older times as “charity,” in more modern idiom as “love.”
This is the gift of the Spirit that makes possible the harmony of all the other functions and offices within the Body of Christ. (See especially verses 4-7.) This amazing poem to love is nested between long discussions of prophetic powers and speaking in tongues, but it is itself the simplest and most profound statement of the secret of life in Christ.
The Gospel reading continues Luke’s story of Jesus inaugurating
his mission in
Quickly the reaction sets in. These
folks in the
Their considered response is, Who is this? And they think they know the answer: it is Joseph’s son, the familiar young man
about their town who recently went off and got too large a dose of religion
from that wild man on the
Actually most of the people’s
response is learned from what Jesus says about it. “You will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor,
cure yourself!’” (verse 23). He tells
them that they will expect him to do miracles like those rumored in other
towns, and in general he points out to them that “no prophet is accepted in the
prophet’s hometown” (verse 24,
The most far-reaching criticism
contained in Jesus’ sermon, however, has to do with the nations. Jesus cites
from the scriptures cases of God’s mercy shown to foreigners rather than
self-righteous Israelites. “There were
many widows in
The reaction of the people of
This denial of Israelite privilege
and status precipitates a riot. The mob drags Jesus out to a cliff –
Since my adolescent Bible reading I have been intrigued with this statement. It has such simplicity and, on consideration, is so appropriate to conclude the scene. The violence has come to the surface, it has brimmed over, but the Anointed One passes through and gets on with his prophetic mission to the poor and the oppressed.