It would be a little harsh, but also accurate, in a way, to regard Our Lord’s words in this Sunday’s Gospel as his response to Jeremiah’s cry in the first reading. Jeremiah has become an exemplar in our language. Someone who predicts doom and disaster is called “a Jeremiah.” His name is forever associated with bad news. Jeremiah himself complained about this. He wanted to speak words of comfort, but found that he was continually called upon to chastise, to speak uncomfortable words.
He had to do this because that was the reality of the world in which he lived. Over generations Jewish society, from top to bottom, had lost touch with their calling.They had ceased in many ways to live as the people of God they were called to be.They truly were heading for disaster, and to fail to point that out would be to speak, and live, a lie.
But that didn’t make life any more comfortable for Jeremiah. Continuous opposition and threats were his lot. Still, in the midst of this, he declares his trust in God, and looks forward to final victory. However, he does so in a vision that is still largely of this world. When Jesus responds to the fears of those around Him, He does so in words that point beyond this world. Do not fear for your body, but rather for your body and soul together, for your eternal destiny.
This isn’t a rejection of striving to change and sanctify this world – far from it! But it is a call not to see victory and defeat in terms of this world. We never stop trying to perfect this world, but live in the knowledge that a perfect society will not exist. Nor can we look back and pretend that some past version was all golden. Any historian will point out the shadows and darkness that existed, then, as now. Our call to keep on speaking the truth, whether received with joy, or the rejection
and hatred that Jeremiah faced, is not based on a vision of a Golden Age, in the past or in the future. It is not based on a vision of triumph, with a great crowd telling us “you were right!” It is based rather on the Lord’s statement about the
value of each one of us. Sparrows are sold two for a penny, He says, but every one of them has value in the eyes of God. And we are worth much more than they.
Every human life has immense value, because we are called, not to some earthly triumphal procession, but to share in the life of God for all eternity. That life starts now, however. It is not separated from this world, because God himself brought that divine life into our world, as St Paul tells us. This is where we work to allow this to happen in our lives, and in those around us. That is our great task, similar to, but much greater than, Jeremiah’s. But, Jesus reminds us, our workplace is not our home. And our focus should always be on home.
Fr Chris Denham