by Father Mark Stubbs
In our day and age, technology has made it very easy to community with the outside world.
You can text a message, or send an email, in a matter of seconds. Thousands can potentially hear what you have to say. Once the word is out, it is impossible to call it back. Conversely, it is very difficult to silence someone.
It was much easier a few thousand years ago. You only had to physically isolate the person, to shut him or her up. That is the situation in Sunday’s first reading, Jer 38: 4-6, 8-10. Some of the Israelite political leaders are upset about the prophet Jeremiah’s message and wish to silence him: “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interest in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin,” Consequently, “they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah, which was in the quarters of the guard, letting him down with ropes.”
Putting Jeremiah to death would have been a definitive way of silencing him, but that does not appear as a pressing danger. Since the cistern does not contain any water, but only has some mud in it, Jeremiah does not face immediate death. Still, it could not have been pleasant. And Jeremiah remains at the mercy of his captors.
Jeremiah’s predicament echoes what Joseph suffered from his eleven brothers centuries earlier. They were jealous of how their father Jacob favored Joseph and similarly wanted to dispose of him: “So when Joseph came up to them, they stripped himof the long tunic he had on; then they took him and threw him into the cistern, which was empty and dry” (Gn 37: 23-24).
Joseph’s brothers end up not killing him, but instead selling him into slavery to Ishmaelite traders passing by. These Ishmaelites take
him to Egypt, where he prospers and eventually becomes the most powerful in the land after the Pharaoh.
Similarly, Jeremiah is eventually freed from the cistern: “Then the king ordered Ebed-melech the Cushite to take three men along with him, and draw the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he should die.”
Once rescued from the cistern, Jeremiah can pursue his mission as a prophet. He continues to speak out against, and to irritate, those in power. But he also is vindicated in his message. His prophecies eventually become true. That is why we continue to proclaim them at Mass as the word of God. He continues to speak to us.