LECTIONARY REFLECTION | PROPER 20 | Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
We are really good at cherry-picking inspirational Bible verses, yanking them out of context, and printing them on t-shirts and those inspiring “Daily Verse Calendars.” While I’m all for a daily pick-me-up, this tendency also has a downside to consider.
The Hallmark inspirational calendar can subtly give us the impression that following Jesus leads to a life that is all all unicorns and rainbows. Each new daily verse seems to say the Christian life is all positive energy and breakthroughs, all conquering lions and standing on top of the empty tomb with hands raised in victory. “Come to Jesus and you will defeat your giants and walk on water,” they promise us. “Yes, God will enlarge your territory and you’ll frolic about all your days in green pastures along the quiet waters.”
Yeah…right. I have a friend who has made a habit (or ministry?) of pulling odd, depressing verses out of context and putting them over beautiful landscapes with mountains and waterfalls. So, I couldn’t help snicker when I read the opening verse in our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah in this week’s lectionary.
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.”
Put that on a mug or a mouse pad! Actually, not much of Jeremiah is screensaver material except the all-time favorite verse quoted out of context, Jeremiah 29:11!
Yet, this kind of gut level honesty and humanity is what I appreciate about our Holy Scriptures. They don’t sugarcoat reality or pretend things are all rosy and pink. We live East of Eden, and “all creation is groaning in the pangs of childbirth” (Rom. 8), eagerly awaiting the final restoration. In the meantime, we trudge along in the dark interval between Christ’s first and second comings.
We need calendars and Daily Verses that give language to our own current struggles, that lend dignity to our own pain, that remind us that we are not alone and others have been in this difficult place, too, and somehow lived to tell about it.
So, let the rest of the dark Jeremiah passage wash over you today. Who knows…maybe you’ll find yourself more encouraged by Jeremiah’s refreshing honesty and unfiltered angst than a dozen happy-go-lucky inspirational verses ripped out of context and wrapped in a shiny bow.
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people” (Jer. 8:20-9:1).
Oh, somedays I know exactly what you mean, Jeremiah. Thanks for your honesty, brother.