I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.” (Jeremiah 20:10-11)
This almost sounds like something coming out of Washington these days. Without drawing undue comparisons between Jeremiah and current political leaders, the words still point out what happens when human beings take seemingly unpopular stands. Trying to change the way people think and act is fraught with difficulties because people are resistant to change. One pundit said, “Only babies with wet diapers like to be changed.”
Jeremiah (20:10-13) has become very unpopular because of his prophecy. The people throw him into a pit at one point. As Christians, looked at the life of Jesus and his impending persecution before the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities, they saw parallels in Jeremiah. Undaunted, Jeremiah knew that God was with him. He continued to speak truth to power. God will be his mighty champion. As the Psalmist says, “in my distress, I called upon God and God heard my voice.”
Jeremiah ends by saying that God “has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” The wicked are the unjust, the dominators, the exploiters of the poor. They maintain the sociopolitical structures which keep the just, the poor, in bondage. Let us recall the modern Jeremiah’s who, like Jesus, speak truth to power-Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Stang, Franz Jagerstetter, Thomas Merton, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Liz McAllister, Joan Chittister, the Maryknoll Women martyrs in El Salvador, the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador, Dennis Kucinich, John Dear, Jeremiah Wright, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Roy Bourgeois, Mother Teresa, Father Jean-Juste, Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, Thomas Gumbleton, Father Bob Cushing, and Father Bob Mattingly. These last two priests were removed from ministry in a parish because one went to Japan on the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and the latter preached to a comfortable suburban parish and pleaded for the poor of Haiti. You may also know many unheralded prophets-think about it.
The “Jews” (Jn 10:31-42) are so angry that they want to stone Jesus. John does not stop to tell us how frightened Jesus must have been when they stood before him with stones in their hands and murder in their eyes. In John, according to Raymond Brown, Jesus is sovereign. He is in control and knows what is going on. In Mark, he is so terrorized by what lies ahead that he falls flat on his face in the Garden of Gethsemani. He is sweating so profusely that it is like he is bleeding. Speaking truth to power is not for the feint hearted. Prophets live in angst.
Jesus again tries to convince them that the truth he speaks comes from God. Blasphemer! For this “crime” the “Jews” could stone people to death. Jesus keeps saying, “Look at my works.” They refuse. They refuse to listen to God because they do not like what Jesus is saying to them. Their “God” resides in purity and debt codes and religious observances, customs and practices. If they say their prayers, follow all the codes and customs, and go to the Temple and/or synagogue regularly, “God” will bless them with prosperity. God is not about prosperity for the unjust. God’s mercy (chesed) extends to all people. Merton says that mercy is the gong reverberating throughout salvation history. God’s chesed favors the widows, the orphans, the aliens—those who have no one else. God is merciful and just. Jesus came to restore justice-right order among all people and with God. Accountability for the Christian comes from Matthew 25. Jesus tells us that we will be judged not on the size of our bank accounts or portfolios (rather dismal indicators these days!) but rather by how they have treated “the least among us.”
Wes Howard-Brook (Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship) points out the danger inherent in the Judeans picking out a particular scripture passage to show that Jesus was a blasphemer. Jesus adroitly turns it back on them by citing a verse from Psalm 82—you are gods. The psalm in its entirety condemns the Judeans:
God presides in the great assembly;
he gives judgment among the “gods”:
“How long will you [a] defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
“They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere men;
you will fall like every other ruler.”
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
for all the nations are your inheritance.
Jesus condemns them for their complicity in injustice. He challenges them to rise up from their petty, false, and erroneous charges against him.
Back to Jeremiah and current politics. Might it be that people without access to affordable health care are among the least? How can we bring Gospel values to bear on current human needs? How can we defend the cause of the least among us? How can we show the Glen Beck’s of the world that social justice is at the heart of the Gospel message? Those who stand with the least are charged with one crime—socialism. How can we show our accusers the full context of Gospel discipleship? Stayed tuned to Jim Wallis’ and Sojourners’ “A Million Christians for Social Justice” campaign. (http://blog.sojo.net/2010/03/25/a-million-christians-for-social-justice/)