Jeremiah means ‘may Yahweh raise up/set up/erect’. God raises up one for His mission. Jeremiah is a prophet from north Anathoth but preached in Jerusalem for about 40 years. He was born into the priestly line of Abiathar, but had little standing with the priests in Jerusalem. Solomon had removed Abiathar from authority centuries earlier (1 Kings 1:28 – 2:26) and replaced him with the priestly line of Zadok in Jerusalem. When God called Jeremiah to be his prophet in Jerusalem, the prophet found himself in the midst of priests who did not accept his inherited priesthood. Jeremiah remained a suspicious and disliked outsider throughout his long career in Jerusalem. Those who face cultural, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious or other prejudices in today’s workplaces can identify with what Jeremiah faced every day of his life. We should know that a prophet is one who questions and challenges the evil structures – one who fights for justice and equality, a radical thinker, a revolutionary, a social and religious reformer, a man/woman of God who listens to his conscience and lives and works according to it, a person with tremendous courage, a mediator between God and the humans etc. God wants His Kingdom/Home to be established on earth, for that He raises the prophets. For God, all creation is good and created with a purpose. When the harmony of this creation is attacked, prophets are chosen by God to do the mission of God. God’s choosing is to make one a blessing for all, although it is hard to understand in life time. Israel was intended to be a blessing for all humanity, not just for herself: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).
Prophet Jeremiah brings us to an expanded notion of this mission of evangelizing for the common good/common home of God. When the Babylonians conquered Israel, in that moment of utter defeat, Jeremiah called upon Israelites to bless their enemies. This blessing includes material prosperity, as Jer 29:7 makes clear. How ironic those in chapters 2-28, for twenty-three years, Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem. God withheld his peace and prosperity from Judah because of their faithlessness; yet by chapter 29, God wanted to bless Babylon with peace and prosperity even though the Babylonians had no faith in the God of Judah. Why? Because Israel’s proper end is to be a blessing for all nations. The very purpose of choosing is to become the blessing for all. Then in chapters 30-33, the prophet looked forward to the restoration of God’s Kingdom. He described it in terms of the joy of work without the defilement of sin: “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel” (Jer 31:4)! The naming “virgin Israel” is a statement of renewal. Contrast it with “How can you say, “I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals” (Jer 2:23)? Prophetic duty or evangelization is not to condemn but to proclaim the mercy and forgiveness and the restoration of the Kingdom. Jesus came to call the sinners and the lost ones and to have them back home (cf. Lk 5:32). Jesus accepted the relationship God has with all his creatures (Mt 6:26). Thus, “Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity” (Laudato Sì # 92). Restoration of the lost dignity of every creation is the innovative mission that the Church, the prophet, is asked to do through her children.
In itself religion is not bad. As human beings we require religion for our guidance. However, we have to realize that it is not the divine need and being a human creation, religion can become corrupt and get alienated from life. No religion, no spirituality, no pious practice is meaningful, unless it affects the quality of life. All these can hijack the humans from the reality of day-to-day life. For instance, luxurious and extravagant cult and rituals that appeal to emotions and sentiments can divert the attention of the masses and provide them some temporary solace, peace of the soul. This demands a constant assessment and reformation of religion. On the other hand, covenant is God made and remaining faithful to it, is the practice of true religion. Hence, any religion that has not succeeded in inculcating the covenantal virtues/values in its followers is a failure. Prophet Jeremiah confronted the then religion and brought Kingdom values. We have so many prophets in today’s world. Pope Francis is a prophet in bringing again the idea of St. Francis of Assisi, that we are all brothers and sisters and the earth is the common home. A healthy culture is a welcoming culture that is able to open up to others, without renouncing itself, offering them something authentic (cf. papal encyclical – Fratelli Tutti #145-146). Need to protect every one’s dignity is the mission of the Church and everyone. In the words of Ángel Gurría, the Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Integrity, transparency and the fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They have to be taught as fundamental values.” We need Kingdom values. May God raise up many to practice what is preached. Who will raise up a Jeremiah of Namibia and in Namibia? Indeed, it should be all of us.