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My Stumbling Block

For this is what the Lord says…
Jeremiah 22:11

I tried to read through the Bible in 90 days last summer. It was going pretty well. I actually quite enjoyed Leviticus and Numbers! Yet then I got to Jeremiah. Arriving at the words of the weeping prophet was something of a stumbling block. Something about Jeremiah’s words stopped me in my tracks. Although Jeremiah is often quoted in the New Testament, alongside Isaiah and the Psalms, there is a lot about the book that, for me at least, makes it a much more difficult book to read.

The phrase, “This is what the LORD says…” is found often throughout Jeremiah (and the prophets more widely). Yet it makes for tough reading. This is what the LORD says. These aren’t words I can take or leave as I want. They give me God’s perspective on how His people are living. In Jeremiah, God’s responds to how things were leading up to and at the start of the exile. They tell of how God was finally “done” with their enduring and unrepentant sinfulness and idolatry and that punishment was coming as a result.

And that was the stumbling block for me. The “doneness” of Jeremiah’s message. Like many, I struggle and strive to rationalize, contextualize, minimize, psychologize and, ultimately, explain away sin, whether it’s mine or those I love or to whom relate. I want it to be seen as part of the “warts and all” package that is outweighed by my intentions or the good I have managed to do. The challenge of Jeremiah’s proclamation of punishment is the finality of it all. (Even though it was given in order that people might ultimately come back to God, Jeremiah 29:12-14.) Sin is an affront to God. It is not defensible. It always brings death. It does deserve punishment, at the least to bring an end to the evil it perpetuates.

We have the Cross and we are a people of Good News. Yet if we don’t take seriously the words of Jeremiah and prophets like him and come to terms with the seriousness of sin and the consequences–and death–that we so rightly deserve, the Cross will not be the good and life-changing news that it is supposed to be. The irony is that only in letting go of our rationalizations and accepting our responsibility for our sin–and how hopeless that leaves us by ourselves–only in this are we brought to a place in which we are ready to receive the Cross as truly Good News. That is why I need Jeremiah–and perhaps why you need it too.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries
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