Proper 20 • Jeremiah 11:18–20 • September 23, 2012
By Leopoldo A. Sánchez M.
You Can Kill the Prophet, but You Can’t Kill the Message
The text gives a gloomy picture of what happens to God’s prophets. Through Jeremiah, Yahweh has convicted Judah for breaking the covenant he made with their forefathers by turning to false idols and disobeying his word. The response? Men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, secretly plot against him. His enemies plan to slaughter, destroy, and cut him off from the land of the living so that his name, and the name of him who sent him, will be remembered no more.
The prophet had no idea he was being led like an innocent lamb to his own death. But it is finally the Lord himself who’s got the prophet’s back, upholds his servant, and ultimately vindicates him. Jeremiah commits his ministry, his cause, to the Lord. Yahweh vindicates his prophet by fulfilling his words of judgment against Judah. Along with his ministry, Jeremiah puts his life in the hands of the Lord, who alone judges righteously, trusting in his deliverance.
Was Jeremiah’s name forgotten? Never. As the Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades once said concerning the life of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a Salvadoran priest who was martyred by death squads as he celebrated mass for calling God’s people to repentance in unpopular times, enemies who persecute God’s spokesmen “matan a la gente, pero no matan a la idea” (i.e., “they kill the people, but they do not kill the message”). It matters little whether or not Jeremiah died at the hands of enemies later in life. Some prophets do; some don’t. That’s God’s business. The message is what matters, not the remembrance of the prophets’ own names per se but of the name of Yahweh to whom they bear witness.
Jesus Dies a Prophet’s Death to Save us from our Sins
The lives of the prophets finally point to Christ’s own life. As the church says in the liturgy of the word: “In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1–2a). The Son is God’s persecuted prophet. He dies because of what he says in the stead of the Father who sent him. The response? His enemies secretly plot against him. The Son is the servant who is led like a lamb to the slaughter to be cut off from the land of the living (Is 53:7–8). Sounds just like the cross of Jeremiah whose life points to Christ’s own suffering for our sins. On the cross, the Son also puts his life and cause in the Father’s hands. God the Father vindicates him from his enemies by raising him from the dead. Jesus dies on the cross because of what he says by divine authority, because he calls sinners to repentance and forgives sins. He does not only say he forgives sins but, unlike the prophets, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
The Father Vindicates Jesus and his Message, the Lord Jesus Will Do the Same for his Church
Now Jesus is our risen Lord. By raising him from the dead, the Father vindicates him and his message. As our Lord, Jesus has given his divine authority to the church and her ministers of the word today (modern day prophets, as it were) to speak on his authority and in his stead, to call people to repentance and make disciples baptizing in his name and teaching what he has commanded (Mt 28:18–20; cf. Lk 24:45–49). Whatever suffering this prophetic ministry brings, we can be sure that our Lord Jesus has our back and will vindicate us, and his message (“I am will you always…”).
The Blood of Jesus Sustains his Church
Jeremiah has a message of hope, too. Through death and resurrection, our Lord has fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy to Judah concerning the new covenant, remembering our sins no more as he gives his church today the blood of the new covenant in his Supper for the forgiveness of our sins (Jer 31:33–34, Heb 10:11–18).