The prophet Jeremiah preached, so far as we can hear from the book bearing his name, mostly harsh, threatening, and accusatory words, urgently necessary in his day. There are a few chapters of hope, promise and joy, as sampled in the first reading today. The prophet exults to announce the reversal of Jacob’s journey from his homeland (story in Genesis) and Ephraim’s long exile in Assyria (told in Kings and Hosea), naming God’s people by those endearing names. In so doing, Jeremiah draws out in imagery the reversal of the rigors of the arduous journey, familiar to us from Isaiah (chapters 40 ff.), picked up as well by the responsorial psalm. Those who have suffered will find the reversal given to them a great joy. The gospel tells a similar tale, basically, using a different image: blindness and the curing of it. How will Bartimaeus, in company of Jacob, Ephraim and the post-exile community—all representing God’s people—become ready to receive and enter into the reversal of their suffering. How will we be able to do the same?
Jeremiah’s ministry to his peers seems to me similar to those prophets in our midst testifying to us about global warming. Whether leaders or citizens, old rich countries or newer ones, there is a reluctance to listen in any substantive way. And yet Jeremiah hangs in with what he thinks must be said, suffers the consequences of disapproval, works through (as we would say) some of his retaliation issues, to be able to rejoice at the possibility of God’s granting a new gift. And Jeremiah is genuinely glad to prophesy such a reversal—no “I told you so” or “you don’t deserve this but” in evidence. Good for Jeremiah. But how will we be ready to receive the new reversing gift if we have refused to confront and be faced with the old situation? We don’t much like criticism these days, find it easier to push the blame elsewhere. But if we refuse to acknowledge the reality of exile, we may miss the journey home as well.
Barbara Green, O.P.