REMEMBER THAT I STOOD BEFORE YOU TO SPEAK ON THEIR BEHALF, TO TURN AWAY YOUR WRATH FROM THEM.  The prophet Jeremiah made this prayer to the Lord upon learning that the religious leaders of his people had resolved to put him to death. Knowing that he was a marked man and exposed to murderous hostility, he yet remained faithful to his ministry. He continued to believe in the inspiration he had received from God that had led to his preaching truths that were accompanied by threats of severe punishment unless the warnings he repeatedly proclaimed met with a change of heart. The only way to avoid disaster, he kept declaring, was to turn in repentance, and carry out God’s commands.

Such preaching by Jeremiah went unheeded and the disastrous fall of Jerusalem followed by the exile of many of its citizens and leaders resulted as the prophet had warned was to take place unless his words were heeded and put into practice. About six centuries later, John the Baptist came with a similar message  Repent”, he warned, and he added “ who has shown you to flee from the wrath that is coming. . . . the axe is laid at the root of the tree. “(Luke 3:7, 8)  Tradition in Jewish times told how, in the end, Jeremiah was put to death by his own people.  John Baptist too met with death because of his courageous fidelity to the teachings of Moses concerning the law, though it was a secular ruler who had him beheaded, not the religious leaders.

Not surprisingly then, our Lord’s preaching sufficiently resembled that of his predecessors in its insistence that God’s law be obeyed from the heart caused him to be associated in the minds of many of his contemporaries that his very identity was confused with these two prophets. When he inquired on his disciples “Who do people say that I am?;” they replied :”Some say John the Baptist, others Elias, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. “(Matthew 16: 14) We see in today’s Gospel, that our Lord realized that his destiny, according to the Father’s plan, included a fate similar to these prophets. In his case, as he states on this occasion, like Jeremiah, he will be condemned by religious leaders, and like the Baptist, he will be put into the power of civil authority, whom he refers to here as “the Gentiles” who actually crucify him. That he makes this point, it seems to me, is due to the fact that he felt it an added measure of shame  that he was disowned by the very leaders whose duty it was to recognize him as God’s anointed.

Today’s text, however, does not end with this prediction of his own passion and death. For Jesus was firmly convinced that he was ultimately to be proved a true prophet and that God’s justice, far from being weakly overpowered would be vindicated in his person. And so he adds at the end of his prediction that: “on the third day he will be raised up.” This Eucharist, offered as it is in the season of Lent, puts us in touch with these realities as they continue to be actively realized in the Risen Lord. We are even now able to participate in the ministry of Jeremiah and of the Baptist through our living faith and communion with the risen Lord Jesus whom they announced and by their lives and deaths witnessed to. May each of us by virtue of our communion with Christ have the courageous faith to follow their example of faithful trust in God and loving acceptance of his Providential care.    

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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