Homily for 18 August
The events narrated by the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah took place around 2 600 years ago. A little while back, but we listen to them because Jeremiah’s story is part of our story. It is fashionable to find out who you are by genetic ancestry testing. The limitations of this are widely published, but still people like finding out that they are three per cent Viking. St Paul tells us that we, Gentiles, have been grafted on to the stock of Israel and so knowing the story of Jeremiah tells us more about ourselves as disciples of Jesus, as people of faith, than a genetic test.
Jeremiah is given his mission at a crisis point in the history of the Chosen People. Their glory days are behind them and they are hemmed in by more powerful kingdoms. There is a faction which has sought to play the Egyptians to the west off against the rising power of the Babylonians to the north-east. Jeremiah tells the people that the Babylonians are in fact carrying out the judgement of God against his people. Those who accept this judgement, who come to terms with the Babylonians, will survive. Those who rebel will not. Jeremiah calls them to look at the situation with new eyes and see not chaos, but the kingship of God. This message is not popular with many; as hear in the reading the king is weak and caves in before the demands of those who want to silence this troublesome prophet.
In the second part of the first reading Ebed-Melech sees the evil done and confronts the king. Ebed-Melech is a Cushite, probably an Ethiopian, not one of the Chosen People. He speaks truth to power and exposes the injustice done to the Prophet. The insiders, those who are anointed, do not see truly; the outsider sees more clearly, shows more insight and integrity and is blessed by God.
Are we not as a church confronted by outsiders who have exposed our failure? Do they at times see more clearly than we? Can we still see in what can seem crisis, a deluge of bad news, the kingship of God over his church and over all? Can we still listen to the prophetic voice calling us to change our ways of doing things, telling us that our future cannot be the same as our present or past?
The story of Jeremiah foreshadows the story of our Saviour. Jesus too is a prophetic figure whose word meets with opposition. His word provokes the comfortably established and reveals their hardness of heart. Jesus brings the fire of the Spirit. Many of you would have seen as I have the wonder of the green of new life bursting forth from the ashes after a bushfire. Indeed, there are seeds like those of the banksia which are released and germinate after fire. The Spirit is fire; the Spirit is deep down freshness; he does not come to keep us comfortable. Jesus is aware that the gift, the message is not without cost. He brings life, but undergoes death. It will be the same for his disciples; we are bearers of his good news, but this does not leave us comfortable.
When our comfortable world is upset, when we face opposition there is the temptation to sink into defeatism, to become, in Pope Francis’ expression, sourpusses. But our source of life is not found in our own strength, our own rigid certainties, it is found in the Lord of fire and Spirit. Keep asking him to help us hear him, for openness to him who blows where he wills. Jeremiah tells us that in the midst of chaos, we need, above all, to trust in the Lord in enough to keep listening to the him who is freedom and life, to trust in his kingship, in the Spirit of the Lord who ‘over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.’ (Hopkins, God’s Grandeur).