Summary: In this dramatic monologue, Jeremiah asks why suffering is constant in the world, and attempts to point the way to an answer.
Style: Dramatic. Duration: 12min
Scripture: Jeremiah 8: 18 – 19:1
(You may wish to use excerpts from the music “Everybody knows” by Leonard Cohen as prelude to the monologue.)
Everybody knows. The deal is rotten.
Have you ever felt that way?
The game is fixed. The poor stay poor. The rich get rich.
That’s just how it goes.
So what can put it right? What kind of bandaids does God have to cure what has gone so wrong?
We could use some balm from Gilead.
Some of that fragrant resin from the Styrax tree that grows in Gilead - In the old days we used to use it to take the sting out of what hurts you.
Balm. Soothing relief for the pain of the moment. The pain of a lifetime. The pain of a life in which there seemed no hope.
No hope. Not if you were poor. The poor stay poor. The rich get rich. That’s how it goes. The poor in Judah had it rough in those days. Still do. The poor have it rough all over the world. Always have.
Don't get me wrong. I was not a crusader for food banks and bread lines. I was no politician. I was a prophet. What compelled me to preach was the pain of God at what had become of the people.
My name is Jeremiah.
Nobody invited me to their parties. There was no silver lining in my dark clouds. I could not find it in me to say with my later colleague Isaiah, "Comfort, comfort my people..."
All I could do was to lament. Lament is a good word, you know. Maybe you have felt it in your bones. Even you religious people. So many people come to the holy places with a smile that proves God loves them. But inside there’s so much going on.
Do you ever feel like that? Feel that your heart is so broken you can do little else but weep? Weep for people killed in tragic accidents? Lament for those whose children have been taken from them? Wring your hands in despair over images of starving people that continue to haunt your dreams?
Let me tell you about lament. And then maybe you can tell me about yours. Because I think - I know - inside the smile you sometimes feel you have to wear, there is a pain that doesn't easily go away.
My people are Jews. People of the covenant. People chosen by God. Not Chosen because they were especially special. Chosen because they were nobodies. Wanderers of the desert. Nomads. With no land. No power. No identity save that they could say for hundreds of years they had survived.
And then this great God came to visit our ancestor Abraham. Came in the form of two visitors. Abraham and Sarah gave them all the kinds of hospitality that was their due in the customs of the day.
And because of the family's kindness, God returned the favor. Go out tonight, old man - and you, old woman. Look at the stars. Start counting them. And when you run out of fingers and toes start counting again. You will find that you cannot begin to count the blessings I will give you. See the number of stars? That's how many descendants you two will have.
You say you are in your nineties? Doesn't matter a bit. Go ahead and laugh, Sarah. I hear you snickering behind the curtain there in the corner. Children? Yes, I'll give you children. Generations of them. And I will give you a land of your own.
This is your vision. But you must make a promise to me. That through you and your descendants the earth will be blessed. You must give to others the kindness I have shown you. You, through the way you live and the things you do, will show not only what kind of people you are, but what kind of God I am.
So be just. Be kind. Be merciful. Let there be hospitality to strangers. Let there be no one who goes hungry. Then you will be a blessing. And I will be happy.
What went wrong? I cannot begin to tell the whole story. It is far too long and complicated. Abraham and Sarah got the land. And then some of their descendants became slaves. Then God came again, and delivered the people from slavery. Once more they got the land back.
But this time things went very wrong. The people settled into their ways.
They began to forget the God who had called and delivered them.
They turned away from this God.
The people who were responsible for keeping the memory of God alive became more interested in little religious rituals than in seeking justice for all.
They thought more about how long to wear their robes than about the vision of God.
And the people became just like everybody else around them.
Instead of being models for what the people of God were to live like, they played the same games of power and status as their neighbors.
They would go to the places of worship on a holy day and recite all these nice words about loyalty to God and being a holy people and then they would turn around and mistreat their workers.
The ones who had no one to care for them were treated like dogs begging for scraps.
Suffering was everywhere.
The poor got poorer. The rich got richer.
And God despaired of what had become of the people.
God called me to speak - to be God's voice.
"My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!"
As God spoke through me to the people, I began to feel - even just a little - how God must feel. God felt betrayed by those who were once beloved. God felt enraged that some were fat and indifferent while others were hungry on the streets. If only God could do it, floods of tears would be shed, rolling down the sides of a fountain.
This is a God who loved a people. Who wanted them to be a new kind of community. To model a different way of living. God wanted the stranger to feel that here they would be welcome. Wanted the sick to find healing and hope. Wanted the homeless to be cared for and invited in.
I think that the wounds God felt are like those that people have who are wounded. "For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt."
The thing that I have to say to you is this -
It doesn’t have to be that way.
There is no reason for God’s people to be alone, abandoned, fearful, hungry. There is no reason for people to feel there is no God.
If the people of God lived as - well - people of God,
there would be no need for lament.
And God would be very happy.
There would be balm from Gilead. Good medicine.
And you would be it.
Maybe I need to ask the question of you.
Do you welcome strangers who come in the door?
Is this a safe place for people to come and talk?
Do you have to wear a smile and act religious - or can you be yourself?
Are there poor outside your doors? How do you see them?
And what do you do about it when you do see them?
You and I have a lot in common, you know. There may be 2600 years between us, but this draws us together... We have been called by a wonderful God to share some wonderful news with the world.
What we must do is to rise above the dog-eat-dog ways of the marketplace.
We are to give peace to those who are afraid.
Share faith with those who are in despair.
Anoint with healing balm those whose wounds are known to us.
What binds us together is a vision.
Not a temple in which to get together and talk about the gossip of the day,
or even to do the chattery things or the busy-busy things that seem to take up so much of our time.
A vision is something that is bigger than any of us.
Larger and more demanding than anything we have done so far.
It is really the same vision as God shared with our ancestors.
That in our life together, in our worship and in our actions and in our very being,
God will be seen.
There is balm in Gilead after all.
All you have to do is open the container and let the healing power out.
© Copyright Jim Hatherly.