Our unique call must be lived fully
By Shawn Reeves
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Feb. 3
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19; Psalm 71:1-2,3-4,5-6,15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21-30
New beginnings are easy. Carrying them through to their conclusion often is not. My 17-year-old son is a purple belt in karate. He is the only student in his school at that level, and all other students are at least three years younger than he is. There have been others closer to his age, but they’ve all dropped out. There is a saying that for every 100 white belts, one will make it to black. Whether it be martial arts, playing a musical instrument, or the host of resolutions made in January that, statistically, will be abandoned after a few months, beginnings are always exciting until sacrifice and discipline are required.
In our readings this Sunday, both the prophet Jeremiah and our Lord, Jesus, are confronted with the challenges within their respective missions, challenges that will ultimately consume both their lives. Jeremiah is told that the Jewish leaders, the priests, the kings, the people “will fight against [him].” Indeed, “against the whole land” he will stand, the Lord tells him.
While few of us have been charged with the mission of a prophet, it would seem that each of us is crafted by God with talents and qualities oriented toward various purposes, purposes that cannot necessarily be fulfilled by others.
Similarly, in the inaugural episode of his public ministry in Luke’s Gospel, which immediately follows his temptation in the desert, Jesus becomes embroiled in the stubborn fickleness of the people He came to serve, who demonstrate exactly the point that angers them: foreigners and outsiders are often more open to the messages of God’s prophets than are the prophet’s kin. Nevertheless, by the end of this chapter Jesus professes that he intends to still go to more towns and preach “because for this purpose I have been sent.”
While Jeremiah is encouraged by God — “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them” — Jeremiah’s ministry was one of almost perpetual suffering at the hands of those he was sent to persuade. Few listened and he was ultimately imprisoned and exiled. By any human account he would seem a failure. Jeremiah appears here as a biblical “type” – a figure that precedes and points toward Jesus, whose ministry also was one of pronouncement and suffering. Yet neither abandons his mission because, as our second reading announces, love “does not seek its own interests. . . . It does not brood over injury . . . but rejoices with the truth.”
CRAFTED BY GOD
Certainly, the heart of the prophet is one so consumed with love for the truth of God’s message and for the people who hear it, that there is no surrendering, no matter the consequence. The prophet’s heart is one of disciplined love. In God’s words to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you,” he recognizes that his entire identity is wrapped up in being crafted by God for this mission. And he cannot abandon it no matter the struggle. He concludes that to do so would be tantamount to self-destruction (Jeremiah 20:7-9).
While few of us have been charged with the mission of a prophet, it would seem that each of us is crafted by God with talents and qualities oriented toward various purposes, purposes that cannot necessarily be fulfilled by others. Each of us, as an intentional creation of God, possesses an identity that is not interchangeable with other persons but is uniquely our own. It belongs to us. And because it belongs to us we are personally charged to live it as fully as possible, like Jeremiah and Jesus. Like them, we will most likely face challenge and antagonism, but we, too, can claim God’s message to Jeremiah: “I am with you to deliver you.”
Despite imprisonment, derision, and exile, Jeremiah’s prophecy became ensconced in the sacred tradition of the people after his death. Despite arrest, abandonment, and crucifixion, Jesus remains the Risen Lord still praised and celebrated today. A prophet above all is called to sacrificial love. And God will not leave us crushed.
Shawn Reeves has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.