Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)
Psalm 8, 84 (Evening)
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
Jeremiah 1:1-10 NRSV: The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Many times I try to find inspiration for my weekly task at Speaking to the Soul by searching on the internet for art that guides me towards a lens in which I can view the Scripture on the appointed day. One of the problems I encountered for this week’s reading above was that the vast majority of artists tend to depict Jeremiah as…well…um…a rather elderly gentleman. But our reading today is clear that Jeremiah was much younger when he encountered God.
What I discovered in my search was this work by Marc Chagall and the story behind why Chagall chose to use an angel in the painting rather than depict God as God. Chagall was Jewish–to portray God as a figure would have been just as proscribed as to say God’s name aloud. Hence, Chagall chose to use an angel as the vehicle to put the words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
In our reading today, Jeremiah is seen falling victim to a malady many of us have when we encounter God’s call–an acute case of “You’ve got the wrong person.” Prophet after prophet in the Bible tries to get out of what God has in store by invoking the “I’m only” clause or the “I’m too,” clause. These stories always come down to God doing something to the person begging off where there’s no going back. In Jeremiah’s case, he gets a mouthful of God’s own words.
Chagall’s choice of an angel in this rendition of the story, though, brings up something useful in our own understanding of our relationship with God. Most of us are not going to claim God’s words in our mouths. In fact, our tendency is to believe that people who claim that close an intimacy with the Almighty are indeed, quite mentally ill.
Yet, as Christians, most of us who actively engage in our faith would claim there are times in our lives where we have responded to what feels like something we’ve derived in “conversation” with God. Our phraseology is full of words like being “called,” “led,” “opened to the possibility,” etc. We tend to attribute these changes in us to situations, or something someone said to us, or something that happened while we were pondering the situation. It’s just that it didn’t seem to involve actual words, necessarily, or a discrete being interacting one-on-one with us. All the same, we worship together, pray together, and minister to the world based on what we sense as dialogue in our relationship with God.
Is it possible that the use of “words” in our reading, are just as much a metaphorical stand-in for the compelling forces and feelings that change our hearts and minds as much as the angel is a stand-in for God in Chagall’s rendering of this story? Those hunches and inclinations that cause us to act in a new way, the things that lead us to repentance and a new creation within ourselves, are just as un-nameable.
What changes for us when we stop expecting the words that God has placed in each of our mouths to be words? How does that change our sense of action in matters of social justice, inclusivity, and stewardship?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid