Saturday, May 30, 2015

MAM Journal: Why Jeremiah

You’re taking a masters in ministry? . . . What’s your first course? . . . Jeremiah? The Prophet Jeremiah? . . . Isn’t that a bit . . . uh, specialized?

No one has voiced these doubts exactly about my entry into the Masters in Ministry (MAM) program at the Theological Institute, but they are reasonable doubts.

In point of fact, I am also taking “Basic Truths of the Catholic Faith” in summer session. That is a required course. Jeremiah is an elective—one that I feel particularly attracted to—and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years as a Catholic, it is that I should follow the promptings of my heart, which some of us choose to call the Holy Spirit.

So this week we read Jeremiah 1–10; and we were asked by professor Celia Sirois to write a paragraph about the assignment. She wrote:

In these first chapters, the prophet launches his opening salvo. Read these chapters carefully and, in one well-developed paragraph, identify the verses that, in your opinion, best articulate and support God’s judgment of his people as delivered by the prophet. Be warned that it is sometimes difficult to ascertain who is speaking in a given passage. 

And so I wrote my first homework assignment—

In the first chapter of Jeremiah, God makes his judgment against the people, and throughout the first ten chapters God seldom changes his tune. The Lord accuses Judah of “wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods, in bowing down to the works of their hands” (1:16). This accusation of apostasy is substantiated in chapter 2, where God says his people withdrew from him, chased emptiness, forgot who brought them out of slavery. Instead of remembering the Lord, they “prophesied by Baal, and went after useless idols. . . . My people have changed their glory for useless things” (2:5–11). This forgetting of God is described in sexual terms. Judah, seen as a woman, has become a prostitute (3:1–3); as a man, he is uncircumcised in both heart (4:4) and hearing (6:10). Not being circumcised, both deaf and heartless, a man cannot experience God’s intimate love. Many passages in Jeremiah 1–10 speak of man’s forgetfulness, but in one verse particularly God speaks through the prophet of consequences: “As you have abandoned me to serve foreign gods in your own land, so shall you serve foreigners in a land not your own” (5:19). Here is the entire narrative of Jeremiah in a verse. God says to Judah, “You want to worship foreign gods? OK, I’ll send you to a foreign land!”

Now, I think that’s pretty good. But what strikes me for purposes of this blog is not the quality of my own amateur writing on Jeremiah but rather how much there is in these ten chapters of an Old Testament prophet to nurture the faith of a Christian.

Jeremiah, who warned Judah of the coming Babylonian exile, was in the position of any Christian today. He lived in an “uncircumcised” culture, heedless in hearing and heart. Of course, I am a product of that culture and often am guilty of the same heedlessness, “burning incense to other gods” like financial security, the acclaim of my peers, a good meal followed by a better nap. As I have written, I “went after useless idols” and ended in a foreign land.

Jeremiah is a good wake-up call—and a great way of starting the MAM program.

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