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Today is the Day: Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

The season of Ordinary Time, given that we are celebrating our everyday life together as people of faith, allows us the opportunity to take a deeper look at some of the things we know only superficially. In these days, I always like to look more closely at the readings from the Old Testament and see how God is speaking to me.


The passage we heard this morning from Jeremiah really functions to introduce us to the entire book of the prophet. For context, it may be helpful to be reminded that content in the book includes calls for repentance, announcements of judgment, reflections of personal laments, pronouncements against nations, and finally stunning announcements of hope, renewal, and recreation. Jeremiah is really a book for all seasons – even ordinary time!


The passage read today, the call of Jeremiah, shapes how we read the entire book because when we have the whole book in mind, we will not understand today’s passage as a reflection on “vocation” but rather something much more.


We are not urged to be like Jeremiah; rather, we are called to listen to Jeremiah. We are not enjoined to admire Jeremiah, nor are adolescent “youths” being encouraged to dream beyond their self-perceived deficiencies. We are challenged to heed his call!


Jeremiah spoke a commanded word, a word placed in his mouth. The metaphorical language however, cannot be understood as reducing Jeremiah to nothing more than a singing telegraph or a piece of audio equipment playing recordings of God’s words. Jeremiah is not a dispassionate instrument. The words he will be commanded to speak will have an impact on him too. In particular, he is not exempt from the dark message he is compelled to speak against his neighbors.


Before I formed you … before you were born, I appointed you a prophet to the nations

(Jeremiah 1:5).

Today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms (1:10).


The temporal span from before birth (the first passage) to the time when Jeremiah was a “boy” (the second passage) underscores the decisiveness of God’s call to Jeremiah.


Functionally, the call commences when it is declared to Jeremiah. It starts with the “today” of this call narrative, the day when Jeremiah says he is too inarticulate and young. But God responds with “go,” “speak,” and “do not be afraid.” Each day of Jeremiah’s prophetic work is a “today-I-appoint-you” day. That appointment is his only authorization and God bears the responsibility for it.


The word “today” appears a number of times in the writing. To the original audience, it heightens the importance of what is said. The message is not a general truism or something that may have applicability at some future point. The “today” pushes beyond the language of moral principles and doctrine. Rather, it has particularity and urgency; there is a present tense “now” at work. The recipient of the message needs to respond immediately, not merely take the message under advisement.


At the same time, each future moment is also a “now.” Thus, in the case of Jeremiah, “today” covers each day within the span of his life. Finally, it encompasses subsequent readers centuries later, readers like you and me to heed the message today and every day. The book of Jeremiah is a continual present tense proclamation. It is not merely an archival record of past proclamation from which we might derive a few still useful nuggets.

Where do we enter the historical story?

First, we enter at the point of the captivity of Jerusalem. This captivity is not a momentary relenting of the sunshine; or a bad day; and it’s not just a simple bit of pain. As readers, we know that any call to repentance was not accepted and calls for repentance classically lay out alternative futures:


If you repent, then the future will be good; if you do not repent, then the future will not be good.


Did you hear the inherent threat (“or else”) contained in the warnings? We know that calls for repentance and warnings went unheeded because later on in the story we read of the captivity of Jerusalem.


Second, we enter the story being told the purpose for which Jeremiah was appointed – to deliver the message, as uncomfortable and challenging as that may be. As readers almost 3,000 years later, who are also addressees of the book of Jeremiah, he is speaking to us, to you and me here in Summit, NJ. We are those:

· who are plucked up and pulled down;

· who are destroyed and overthrown,

· and who are built and planted.


All who want to be faithful to God’s call, to God’s promise, to live in conformity with God’s plan share in the effects of those verbs – plucked up, pulled down, destroyed, overthrown, but thanks to the gift of God’s son Jesus, we are also re-built, and re-planted – given a chance to start anew.


Like many people then, surely people now, will vehemently resist any suggestion that their projects and personal plans will be shut down and disassembled. Many people fight against, and reject a message of judgment, a message to re-form their lives, to start to live as God would have us live.

Many cannot imagine “build” and “plant” as anything but a ratification of their own prestige and virtues. But in the book of Jeremiah such thinking belonged to Hananiah and other false prophets. Let’s not be like them!


Six verbs are used to summarize the authorized the word of God in the book of Jeremiah. Our task today as contemporary believers, is to discern how those verbs apply to our lives here and now. As in the prophetic book, different moments will need to hear different commanded words.


1. Where do we need to be plucked up from? What’s dragging us down?


2. Or pulled down from? What has us arrogantly raised above the rest?


3. What in our life needs to be destroyed and overthrown? Are there people, or habits, or material things that are holding us back from being the authentic people God wants us to be?


4. How do we rebuild and replant?


Pauls’ letter to the Corinthians answers the question in one word – L.O.V.E. To measure how well we’re doing with re-building and re-planting, try substituting your name for the word love in the passage:

Bob is patient, Bob is kind.

Bob is not jealous, Bob is not pompous,

Bob is not inflated, Bob is not rude,

Bob does not seek his own interests,

Bob is not quick-tempered, nor brood over injury,

Bob does not rejoice over wrongdoing

but Bob rejoices with the truth.


How does that little test work for you? Where we cannot honestly replace our name with LOVE, then there we see where we start our work.


And the change, the rebuilding and replanting will take effort, work, patience, and persistence, not only because of our own shortcomings, but because no prophet is accepted in his own native place … that is, our friends and family will sometimes challenge and ridicule us for wanting to be more like Jesus. But let’s go back to the beginning, remembering:


If you repent, then the future will be good; if you do not repent, then the future will not be good.


And let’s never forget, TODAY is the day!



RSM


January 30, 2022

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