In the Lectionary

August 21, Ordinary 21C (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

If Jeremiah sounds a bit paranoid, it is because everybody really is against him.

Jeremiah’s mission, like that of some other prophets, begins with God calling him to speak an uncomfortable message. Yet he soon learns that God’s call is not about his abili­ty but God’s. Scripture often reiterates that God is near the broken and far from the proud. God rarely calls us to do what we can do on our own—we do not need a call for that. God calls us to what is impossible on our own, so we learn to depend on him.

Even God’s plan to use Jeremiah originated beyond Jeremiah: God planned this mission before Jeremiah was born. God also “consecrated” Jeremiah for this work. Scripture uses the same Hebrew term for consecrating the tabernacle and consecrating the priests. The term means “to set apart” for special use by God; once set apart for this special use, the person or object becomes sacred and cannot be used for profane (ordinary) purposes. Jeremiah’s mission will hereafter consume his heart and life. Calling his generation back to God in the face of imminent disaster demands such focus that Jeremiah cannot even afford to be distracted by ordinary human ties (15:17, 16:1–9).

God identifies a mission the scale of which is surely beyond Jeremiah’s imagination. Jeremiah will prophesy to “the nations,” pronouncing judgment on those who do not submit to God’s plan. The book of Jeremiah thus includes oracles against many nations. Most nations had their own prophets or diviners, sometimes in the pay of local sanctuaries or royal courts. Part of their job was to promise that their gods would supply the king with victory and blessings. This sometimes entailed pronouncing judgment on rival nations, although we do not know how often they actually sent messengers to those nations’ ambassadors, as Jeremiah does (27:3).