Jeremiah lived during a most distressing time. The nation was under siege. He loved his country but had the unfortunate task of telling everyone that God’s judgment was upon the nation and the only way they could save their lives was to surrender to the invading army. In short, he was a traitor. People talked about him behind his back. Even his own family tried to kill him. Jeremiah just wanted to be loved. Instead, he was cursed. This so depressed him that he wished he had never been born. He cried out to God: “I have consumed your words, I bear your name, I preach the truth, and I have lived a righteous life for you. The result has been that I am isolated, cursed, and filled with indignation and pain. I have an incurable wound because of my commitment to you. You, God, are like a beautiful, gentle stream that becomes a treacherous, deadly, tomb when you step into it.” One of the beauties of the God of the Old Testament is that he is big enough to hear his children’s complaints. He doesn’t criticize us for telling him exactly how we feel. In this case, however, Jeremiah seems to have crossed a line in judging the character of God. God’s response is that Jeremiah needs to repent and speak the truth about God. If he does this, God will restore him and make him “a solid wall of brass.” The people may strike out at him but they won’t put a dent in that wall. God promises to fight for Jeremiah.
The psalmist continues this refrain. Jeremiah was not unique. The “day of distress” comes for all and “not for any offense or sin” of ours. The world is simply filled with enemies, adversaries, evildoers, bloodthirsty and mighty men, those who lie in wait for us to take our lives. How can we weather the storm on that day? The psalmist cries out to God: rescue, defend, save me. His experience is that God is our refuge, our strength, our stronghold, and his mercy goes before us. In the meantime, as we wait for deliverance, what are we to do? The psalmist “watches” for God, “sings” of his strength, “praises” him for his mercy, and prepares to “revel at dawn in your mercy.” It’s as if he is saying, “I wake up, I am very much alive, my enemies have not triumphed, and God’s mercy endures forever. Let’s have a party!”
The gospel lesson speaks not so much of finding the God of Jeremiah and the psalmist but of discovering what life in the Kingdom of heaven is really like. To Jesus, what is it like to be a follower of God, to come into the reign or kingdom of heaven? Jeremiah is depressed and the psalmist experiences days of distress. Surely Jesus does not envision a life without both. Yet, the Kingdom of heaven is also full of surprises and serendipities. Jesus’ disciples are on a journey. In the Kingdom of heaven they find a treasure that is worth all that they have. They are like merchants searching for pearls who find the best they have ever seen and know that it is worth everything they own. They discover what life in the reign of God is worth and “with joy” they give up everything for that Kingdom.
Depression and distress: this is our lot. Surprised by joy, protected in the day of distress, and a party at dawn in God’s mercy: this is also our lot in the Kingdom of Heaven.
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