Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jeremiah's lament of chapter 20 in music

Now for something different. Jeremiah 20:7-13.

In this lectionary passage, Jeremiah alludes to two psalms. The laughter and derision reflect the two words of Psalm 2:4. Jeremiah is at the butt end of ridicule from his own people. This is a contrast to Psalm 2 in which the derision is from heaven to earth. Here it is from earth to the prophet appointed by and representing heaven. The beginning of Jeremiah 20:10 is identical to the beginning of Psalm 31:14.  Jeremiah makes this psalm his. One might wonder who was first, the psalmist or the prophet. But perhaps we all understand both 'defamation' and 'terror surrounding' in our own contexts even 2500 years later in time.

Jeremiah feels used, even abused, and is disappointed in Yahweh - so he tells him to his face. (That's the only way to manage. If you are going to complain, go to the top). Bruggeman, (1998 p. 181) also translates the verb as seduced as I have. The power of God who 'could' overpower Jeremiah is contrasted with the same word concerning his own inability to hold his tongue - that he 'could not' and again with those who taunt him - hoping he will be 'seduced' again so that they 'can' overpower him. As in the psalms, the repetition of the same word forms a rhetorical game that is missed in translation (unless you are as wooden as I am).

Bruggeman asserts without justification that 'the claim [of power] only asserts Yahweh's raw, primitive power'. I don't get his point. The power to seduce and overcome is more than raw or primitive and it is pervasive. With Yahweh, it is a power of love, with Jeremiah, a lack of power to resist the burning fire that he must express, and with those politicians ('peaceful mortals') who taunt him, it is the abuse of the same power to aggrandize themselves in their impotence over the one who speaks truth into their weakness. There is nothing 'primitive' here, particularly the motivation of Yahweh to save his people even if through fire. Equally, our mortal weakness pretends to be strong. And we too, failing in insight, share in the 'everlasting' confusion.

Jeremiah will ultimately be the prophet of the New Covenant (chapter 31) in which the Law of love (not the law of oil or money or influence or self-interest) is written on our hearts. So in verse 13 he does not lose heart even if in the remaining verses of the poem and song (Jeremiah 20:14-17) he identifies with the words of Job and calls down a curse on the day he was born.