Jeremiah 18:18-20 (NRSVCE)
Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah—for instruction shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words.”
Give heed to me, O Lord,
and listen to what my adversaries say!
Is evil a recompense for good?
Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before you
to speak good for them,
to turn away your wrath from them.
Jeremiah was a prophet. He proclaimed the goodness of God, he called out the wickedness of the world, and he prayed for mercy and salvation for the people of God. And the people hated him for it. He did what prophets are there to do—he disrupted the ordinary ways of the world, for the sake of the ways of God. But nobody likes change. The world hated the mere thought of giving up its wicked ways. So instead of heeding Jeremiah’s pleas, instead of changing their behavior, they instead chose to demonize Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a prophet, and thus ought to be listened to. But if we make him an enemy, if we find a reason (or can make up a reason) to condemn him, we get to keep going about our lives as we always have, in sin.
Is evil a recompense for good? It was precisely because he was good that the people sought to get rid of Jeremiah. The goodness of his words and the goodness of his deeds highlighted the wickedness of their own. I can’t help but think of how we respond now to those who call on us to be better than we are. Do we listen, accept, and learn from what they have to say? Rarely. Do we get defensive, looking for any way to justify the way we are now? That’s certainly more common. But the sad state of affairs is that the most common response is that of the people to Jeremiah. Instead of accepting that we may need to learn or change, and instead of even defending ourselves, we attack. We conspire. We plot. If you don’t think that’s true, go to your local news station’s social media page and read through the comments on any article about a new public policy, or a new project proposal. That will eliminate any doubts about who we still are. We seek to tear down anyone who would even suggest that we ought to be any different than we are, or that the natural order of things can be improved. We are comfortable in our situation and in our behaviors, and we will bring charges against any who would dare to suggest it is not the way things ought to be. Those who challenge us are not allowed to be our teachers, or our advocates. They are only our enemies, just as the people perceived Jeremiah to be.
The takeaway from this is obviously the most difficult bit. We need to work on ourselves. We need to learn how to learn again, how to be like children, how to accept that the way we are right now is not the best we can do or the best we can be. Until the return of our Savior, there is always improvement to be done. We need to open ourselves to the possibility that God is still calling to us with prophetic voices to be better. And we need to help those closest to us to do the same.