Art Thou a King, then?
Come, His universe,
Come, crown me Him a King!
Pluck rays from all such stars as never fling
Their light where fell a curse,
And make a crowning for this kingly brow!—
What is my word? Each empyreal star
Sits in a sphere afar
In shining ambuscade:
The child-brow, crowned by none,
Keeps its unchildlike shade.
Sleep, sleep, my crownless One!
Unchildlike shade! No other babe doth wear
An aspect very sorrowful, as Thou.
No small babe-smiles my watching heart has seen
To float like speech the speechless lips between,
No dovelike cooing in the golden air,
No quick short joys of leaping babyhood.
Alas, our earthly good
In heaven thought evil, seems too good for Thee;
Yet, sleep, my weary One!
And then the drear sharp tongue of prophecy,
With the dread sense of things which shall be done,
Doth smite me inly, like a sword: a sword?
That "smites the Shepherd." Then, I think aloud
The words "despised,"—"rejected,"—every word
Recoiling into darkness as I view
The Darling on my knee.
Bright angels,—move not—lest ye stir the cloud
Betwixt my soul and His futurity!
I must not die, with mother's work to do,
And could not live-and see.
We take up the story after Jeremiah had been witnessing against child sacrifice just outside the gates of Jerusalem. He goes back into town and through the Benjamin gate to the Temple courtyard.
Then Jeremias came from Topheth, whither the Lord had sent him to prophecy, and he stood in the court of the house of the Lord, and said to all the people:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold I will bring in upon this city, and upon all the cities thereof all the evils that I have spoken against it: because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
Now Phassur the son of Emmur, the priest, who was appointed chief in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremias prophesying these words. And Phassur struck Jeremias the prophet, and put him in the stocks, that were in the upper gate of Benjamin, in the house of the Lord.
And when it was light the next day, Phassur brought Jeremias out of the stocks. And Jeremias said to him: The Lord hath not called thy name Phassur, but fear on every side. For thus saith the Lord: Behold I will deliver thee up to fear, thee and all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thy eyes shall see it, and I will give all Juda into the hand of the king of Babylon: and he shall strike them with the sword. And I will give all the substance of this city, and all its labour, and every precious thing thereof, and all the treasures of the kings of Juda will I give into the hands of their enemies: and they shall pillage them, and take them away, and carry them to Babylon. But thou, Phassur, and all that dwell in thy house, shall go into captivity, and thou shalt go to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and there thou shalt be buried, thou and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied a lie.
Jeremiah 19.14 – 20.6
Jeremiah was not a man for the quiet life – well, he might have been, but for the Lord’s call. He did try to evade it by saying he was too young, but to no avail; called and sent he was, so to Jerusalem he went and proclaimed the Word. And got beaten by the chief priest and left in the stocks overnight. Did he slink away with his tail between his legs? No, he spoke the Word again. The exile in Babylon was coming fast.
Jeremiah would later encourage the exiles not to put their lives on hold, but to build a new life for themselves in Babylon, as we see many of them do in the Book of Daniel and elsewhere. Am I simply marking time, awaiting the end of the exile from ‘normal life’ that covid19 has led us to?
Thus saith the Lord: Go, and take a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests: And go forth into the valley of the son of Ennom, which is by the entry of the earthen gate: and there thou shalt proclaim the words that I shall tell thee. And thou shalt say: Hear the word of the Lord, O ye kings of Juda, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold I will bring an affliction upon this place: so that whoever shall hear it, his ears shall tingle: Because they have forsaken me, and have profaned this place: and have sacrificed therein to strange gods, whom neither they nor their fathers knew, nor the kings of Juda: and they have filled this place with the blood of innocents. And they have built the high places of Baalim, to burn their children with fire for a holocaust to Baalim: which I did not command, nor speak of, neither did it once come into my mind.
Therefore behold the days come, saith the Lord, that this place shall no more be called Topheth, nor the valley of the son of Ennom, but the valley of slaughter. And I will defeat the counsel of Juda and of Jerusalem in this place: and I will destroy them with the sword in the sight of their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and I will give their carcasses to be meat for the fowls of the air, and for the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city an astonishment, and a hissing: every one that shall pass by it, shall be astonished, and shall hiss because of all the plagues thereof. And I will feed them with the flesh of their sons, and with the flesh of their daughters: and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege, and in the distress wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives shall straiten them. And thou shalt break the bottle in the sight of the men that shall go with thee. And thou shalt say to them: Thus saith the Lord of hosts: even so will I break this people, and this city, as the potter’s vessel is broken, which cannot be made whole again: and they shall be buried in Topheth, because there is no other place to bury in.
Thus will I do to this place, saith the Lord, and to the inhabitants thereof: and I will make this city as Topheth. And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Juda shall be unclean as the place of Topheth: all the houses upon whose roofs they have sacrificed to all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings to strange gods.
Poor Jeremiah: the Lord wanted the end of child sacrifice in Jerusalem, just outside the city gate. Had it been going on ever since the Holy Land was taken by the children of Israel?
Jeremiah seems to have used the city gates for his symbolic gestures. There would always be people coming and going, perhaps ready to spend time watching whatever might be happening by the gateway. But a people that could allow human sacrifice does not need a prophet’s gesture to become broken; the society is not based on trust and equality if children can be chosen for sacrifice. It cannot be made whole again without great repentance.
So what do I need to repent of? What idols am I unwittingly sacrificing to?
To most of us it would not be a desert, but a street of slightly run-down 19th Century workers’ houses, not enhanced by the yellow lines or the parked cars. But on this occasion? Well, it was the parked cars that drew me to the street, because I was one-to-one teaching Bradley, who was working for a geography project. This particular task involved surveying cars in different areas of town to discover where the newer and the older ones ‘lived’.
What we eventually did was not quite what I intended. Bradley would not walk down this street in case we should meet a local who would beat him up for trespassing on his territory. ‘They’ll get me later, even if they won’t attack me with you here.’ It was the same story in the other streets I attempted, so we ended up comparing railway, supermarket and seaside parking, but not walking down that street.
Jesus surely felt afraid when he said: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.’ (Matthew 20:1819)
But he set his face for Jerusalem. Let’s pray for the grace to surmount our fears and follow him in our daily lives.
(A few months later Bradley moved 200 miles from home to take up an apprenticeship in a town he did not know! Perhaps the little challenges prepared him for that much bigger one.)
Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history. Which only makes sense if we understand that it is a fully human word that is spoken. He struggled to express in the Aramaic words of his culture and his own experience, his human understanding of the divine meaning of his own life and existence in the world. Likewise with typical Jewish gestures and signs, and in the way he shaped his life and responded to the way others shaped it.
When the Apostles began passing on his message, they didn’t begin by reporting what he said. They first mention their own Easter experience, their experience of the Resurrection. What they saw was his way of meeting death and bursting its bonds. For them, the meaning of Jesus was something that could not be contained entirely in words; and Revelation could not be entirely communicated in words.
What was this Revelation? It was first and foremost the full experience of his presence, his companionship and friendship giving meaning to their own lives. Only secondarily, and within the embrace of friendship, did they receive explanations in which Jesus gave his own prophetic interpretation of why he was present with them. They received his words through living with him and living as he lived. Only by doing this did they come to reflect on what he said, and because of this proclaimed the reality in their own words; a further prophetic interpretation – extending the presence of Christ further into the world.
We have the classic collection of these words – the New Testament. We also have a collection of prophetic interpretations of what the apostolic community was like passed on to us by tradition; consisting of liturgical and catechetical formulae of all kinds [e.g. the Creeds]. These testimonies are more elusive because they have been worked out and refined through the centuries. This asks an important question about Revelation. If a text or prayer is written after the time of the apostles, does this make it less sacred or less revealed? Did Revelation stop when the last apostle died? Obviously, the interpretation of the apostles is special, indeed unique, simply through their personal presence at the heart of the Christian event.
If Jesus is the Revelation of God because of the conversation we now have with God – which he achieved during his life as it unfolded, and because of the way he met and overcame death, then those who walked with him had an experience definitive for all time. He changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be.