To fully understand today's First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah, it helps to have a little background information. When God called Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah was still quite young. He protested to God that he was only a boy and did not know how to speak. But God insisted that He had consecrated Jeremiah as a prophet even before he was born, told him not to be afraid, and assured him that He would give His prophet words to speak and deliver him from his enemies. Jeremiah accepted his mission and set out to deliver an unwelcome message to the land of Judah.
Now, however, some time has passed, and Jeremiah is starting to feel like God hasn't quite kept His promise. After all, he has spoken God's message throughout Judah and has gotten nothing but trouble for it. His life has been threatened. He has been struck. He has spent the night in the stocks. Clearly, the people are, at best, uninterested in what he has to say and, more often, hostile to his prophecies.
“You duped me, O Lord,” the prophet protests, “and I let myself be duped.” Jeremiah seems to be a bit miffed with God. He feels like God has deceived him with His promises of protection and enticed him into prophetic service without supporting Him. “You were too strong for me,” Jeremiah continues, “and You triumphed.” Jeremiah is considering himself rather ill used at the moment, especially when he recalls how people laugh at him and mock him all day everyday because he speaks God's words. If God were truly with him, he seems to suggest, such things would not be happening.
Jeremiah is even becoming fed up with the message he is assigned to proclaim. He cries out all the time and it's nothing but violence and outrage. The words are always negative, always bad news, and all they bring back to him are derision and reproach. People can't stand to hear him.
The prophet has even made up his mind that he won't speak God's word anymore. He will just stop being a prophet. He will remove himself from the situation and get on with his life. But it doesn't work. God's word sets him on fire. He feels it burning deep within his heart and within his bones. He can't keep it in any longer. He can't endure it, and it pours out of him in spite of his best efforts to keep it in.
What are we to make of Jeremiah's protest? We are all called to speak the truth of God's word even in the more difficult situations, even when people laugh at us or reproach us or sneer at us, even when people threaten us or harm us or simply ignore us. We may sometimes feel like Jeremiah in these circumstances. We may wonder where God is and whether He has abandoned us. We may wonder whether it is worth speaking out if all we get in return is trouble.
It is worth speaking out, and Jeremiah knew that, too. He kept right on prophesying even after his protest. He blew off whatever steam he needed to and then returned to his mission. He still faced many trials. In fact, he was imprisoned, thrown down a mud-filled cistern and left to starve, and led away against his will to Egypt. But no matter what happened, he continued to speak the word of God that so inflamed his heart, and deep down, he knew, as we all should, that God was right next to him the whole time.