To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
Our first reading this Sunday is from the prophet Jeremiah, a lonely prophet–some might say a dreary prophet. He had the misfortune of living at a time when people were unquestioning about the prevailing wisdom of their day.
The ruling king in Judea was smart and popular; his advisors unanimously backed him, his army was loyal and public opinion was on his side– almost 99%. Except for Jeremiah, who spoke against his policies, questioned his advisors, scolded his soldiers and predicted the destruction ofJerusalem.
What do you do with someone like that? They decided to bury Jeremiah in a deep cistern where no one could hear him and eventually he would die. He was only saved because someone said he shouldn’t die, his voice should be heard.
Well, shortly afterwards, in 586 BC, the Babylonians came into Judea, leveled Jerusalem to the ground and carried away most of its population as slaves to Babylon– as Jeremiah had predicted.
Jeremiah wasn’t fanatical, a fanatic doesn’t question himself. He was a realist, a man who believed in God and saw things as they are. In the book that bears his name, he repeatedly questions himself and worries about what people were saying. He wants to be accepted – like us all. He complains to God about being a prophet but realizes a prophet has to speak, even if he’s out-of-step with the prevailing wisdom of his day.
Listen to Jesus in the gospel today. You can hear the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus brings fire to the earth. Fire can bring light and warmth, but fire can also drive away. Faith can bring people together, but it can also bring separation, even dividing families. It can bring loneliness and unacceptance, especially when it challenges the prevailing wisdom of the day.
How does faith clash with our prevailing wisdom today? For one thing, it can clash with our prevailing concept of happiness. Our prevailing wisdom says we have a right to perfect human happiness, here and now, you, me, everybody. We have a right to perfect health, a perfect body, a perfect mind, a perfect life.
Utopia is right around the corner, in the laboratory waiting to be discovered, in political platforms waiting to implemented. Never mind a heaven above, we want a heaven on earth. A world where there’s no sickness, no sorrow, or death. Heaven on earth.
So we tell the drug companies and our medical establishment – “Give us bodies that will dance every day and minds that will never fail. Take loneliness away from us, help us live on a high. Give us eternal youth, give us life-long sexual pleasure, give us perfect health and a lot of wealth.
So we tell our leaders and politicians to promise us everything under the sun and then get it done right away.
But does happiness, complete happiness come right away? Yes, we pray that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. But it will come on God’s time, not ours. It will be God’s kingdom, not ours. To trust in ourselves or in human promises and progress brings disappointment and even hopelessness.
We need to listen to prophets like Jeremiah and the warnings of Jesus. We have to recognize the incompleteness of the world we live in and to trust in the fire that never goes out.
That’s the wisdom we hear in an old song, which you don’t hear sung too much any more.
“I’m just a poor, warfarin stranger, traveling through this world of woe. There’s no sickness, no toil or sorrow, in that dear land to which I go.”
Jeremiah could have sung that song.