The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.”Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north.”
Then the Lord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
Between the 9th and the 6th centuries BCE, two little kingdoms in the Middle East struggled to maintain their integrity against the increasing pressure of powerful neighboring empires. They both succumbed. One of them, Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians about 722, its inhabitants deported into exile. The other, Judah, was conquered by the Babylonians in 586. Decades before the Babylonians invaded, Yahweh called Jeremiah to prophesy to the Judeans; to warn them to end their idolatrous ways. They did not heed Jeremiah, and their callousness to the truth ensured their captivity.
Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, renown theologian and civil rights leaders of the 21st Century, wrote this and I offer it for your consideration: “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven. The prophet faces a coalition of callousness and established authority and undertakes to stop a mighty stream with mere words. The purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness, to change the inner person as well as to revolutionize history. The prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Perhaps Rabbi Heschel’s words convict us this Lent. What and whom are we listening to? Why have false prophets and their conspiracy theories captured the minds of so many? Has our own callousness deafened our ears to modern-day Jeremiah’s? Or do we feel so overwhelmed by their prophesies that we have given up—especially when we’re confronted by our nation’s original sin of racism? When you find a prophet’s jeremiad raising your hackles, remind yourself that “Few are guilty, but all responsible.” His or her message may just be what you need to hear.
Please be patient with me as I may be slow to believe and act on your prophetic warnings and wisdom. It is hard to trust the Holy Spirit when she pushes. I will do my best to keep up and trust your process, and know that I can rest in your will.