Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

The first reading we heard today from the prophet Jeremiah is quite remarkable. I want you to focus on some of these lines. "You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped." He is complaining, " You tricked me, God, and I let myself be deceived." "All day long I am an object of laughter." He’s saying, "I thought that as your prophet I would bring an important and serious message to the people, but all they do is laugh at me." "I said to myself, that I will speak in His name no more." Remarkably that means, "I’m done with you, God; I’ll have nothing more to do with you."

This passage occurs in a section of the prophet Jeremiah’s book that biblical scholars call "The Confessions of Jeremiah." There’s nothing else like it in any other section of the bible, except maybe some of St. Paul’s letters. It gives us a glimpse into the inner feelings of Jeremiah as a prophet. We discover that his inner life is pretty turbulent; it’s not all easy-going. Faith in God goes through some very rough times indeed. These include moments when Jeremiah decides to give up on God for good. In other words, he’s "had it" with religion.

I think these passages should give us a much broader view of what a life of faith includes. There are going to be those dark times when it seems like faith has deceived us, God has let us down. We have prayed and prayed, but the good we sought did not happen. The result is that we are ready to give up on religion. We should realize that there will likely be times like that for many of us. As a priest through the years I have listened to lots of stories of people who have prayed and prayed for a child to be healed, for an illness to be cured, for a personal hatred to be resolved. Oftentimes the people who have prayed so hard feel completely discouraged. They are a lot like Jeremiah. They too say, "You tricked me, Lord. I’m not going to have anything more to do with you. I’ve had it."

How does Jeremiah get out of this negative state of mind. Here’s the really remarkable part of this passage: "But then it (the Word of God) becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary of holding it in, I cannot endure it." So Jeremiah himself really doesn’t do anything to get himself out of it. He begins to be overcome with these feelings from within himself. He can’t let go of God in spite of himself. And so he goes on believing in God and serving as God’s prophet even at this terrible and empty low point in his life.

The real issue at the bottom of all this is anger at God, not an easy topic to bring up. People often have it in those low points in their life, but it also usually evokes some feelings of guilt and fear. It’s like you are angry at God, but you feel guilty for being that way. That’s why we should look carefully at Jeremiah’s experience and words. He is angry, but he doesn’t feel any guilt about it. In one of my favorite articles entitled, "God damn God: Expressing Anger in Prayer," Sr. Sheila Carney writes that the bible has an awful lot of anger being expressed, including anger at God. She gives lots of examples, especially from the Book of Psalms. Today’s Jeremiah reading fits right in with that. It’s an issue that, as I said before, all of us will probably have to face at some time. So it might be worth our while to spend a little time with Jeremiah this weekend.

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