“Stand up and tell them all I command you”.
This call was addressed to the prophet Jeremiah at the very beginning of his prophetic activity. He faced many adversities: kings and lords fighting mercilessly for political power and influence; priests using religion mostly as an instrument of power and a source of income; ordinary people keeping old traditions without their spiritual and moral dimension. Jeremiah realised that all these made the Jewish state and society powerless in face of the quickly growing Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah was not listened to: for the establishment he became a traitor, because he had spoken against them; ordinary people refused to listen to Jeremiah treating him as a member of the establishment, because he came from priestly stock.
Jeremiah’s mission seemed to be a failure; nobody took his warnings seriously, people were annoyed by his admonitions. Once a scroll with his sermons was publicly torn and burnt at the temple court. Only the tragic Babylonian invasion and the exile from the homeland showed the Jewish people that Jeremiah had been right. Many years after his death he became one of the greatest and respected prophets.
Tonight’s gospel is an example of something similar. Jesus read a passage from the prophet Isaiah and associated it with himself (we heard about this on Sunday a week ago). The congregation was initially pleased, but their acceptance very quickly turned to anger, so finally the people rejected Jesus and attempted to kill him. As we know that was not the last time that Jesus was rejected. His public activity wasn’t a continual success. Eventually Jesus was killed. His mission brought success much later.
I think we know the feelings of Jeremiah and Jesus. Certainly each of us has experienced being misunderstood, mocked or rejected. Teachers or social workers may feel embittered when they see their efforts fruitless; parents may feel disappointed by their children; priests may feel embittered looking at decreasing congregations. Everyone would like to see good results quickly, but it doesn’t happen often.
The quotation I recalled at the beginning is still valid for us: our job is “to stand up and tell them all I command you”.
1. Stand up – we need to be patient to see the results of our efforts. Sometimes we will not see them in this life.
2. Tell them – sometimes by words, but mainly but acting right and fair; like God said to Jeremiah: “now brace yourself for action”.
3. All I command you – I think this element is crucial. Listening to the word of God is the source of proper actions and the source of strong perseverance in the face of defeat.
The first and the most important commandment calls us to love God and to love one another. This commandment is the only thing we’re called to tell them. And to show them.