by Father Mike Stubbs
Sunday’s first reading, Jer 20:7-9, allows us to overhear a heart-to-heart conversation between Jeremiah and God. In that honest exchange, Jer- emiah complains to God that God has tricked him: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”
We might well ask: What is this trick that God has played on Jeremiah?
An examination of other parts of the book of Jeremiah reveals the answer. At first, Jeremiah found great joy in God’s word: “When I found your words, I devoured them. They became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jer 15:16).
But eventually, after this initial joy, Jeremiah experiences great suffering because of the word of God, specifically because of his part in bringing that word to others: “The word of the Lord has brought me derision and re- proach all the day” (Jer 20: 8). The word of God has made his life miserable.
Despite these difficulties, Jeremiah remains committed to the word of God: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones.”
Jeremiah has internalized the word of God in such a way that it now controls him. Even the image of devouring the words of God suggests the process of internalizing God’s message. After all, we are what we eat. Jeremiah has invested himself so profoundly in the word of God, that he cannot shake it off.
That explains the internal struggle that Jeremiah is experiencing. On one hand, he is deeply drawn to and committed to the word of God. On the other hand,
he would like to avoid the suffering that results from his involvement with the word of God. He is torn between the two, and that conflict causes him extreme anguish.
Compare Jeremiah’s internal struggle with the struggle between Jacob and the mysterious figure, described in Gn 32:23-31. The account in Genesis identifies the person that Jacob wrestles with as simply “the man.” We never learn his name. Some commentaries suggest that the nameless man that Jacob wrestles with is the embodiment of Jacob’s own dark side. In that case, the wrestling bout which takes place during the night represents Jacob’s internal struggle. Jacob’s dark night of the soul anticipates Jeremiah’s own struggle.
But there is an important difference. In the Genesis story, Jacob prevails in the wrestling match. On the other hand, Jeremiah acknowledges that God has won the struggle: “You were too strong for me, and you triumphed.”
God has won, and that is a good thing.