“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” (Jeremiah 1:6)
The Constitution of the United States stipulates that one must be at least 25 years of age to serve in the House of Representatives, 30 years of age to serve in the Senate, and 35 years of age to be President of the United States. Canon Law stipulates that a man must have completed his 25th year before he can be ordained a priest. I am not aware of anyone objecting to these provisions of law. I suspect that most of us would agree that such restrictions are reasonable.
Before I wrote this essay, I “googled” the name of the prophet, Jeremiah. I then chose “Images” on the browser. I was not surprised to see that most of the images depicted Jeremiah with a rather long, gray beard although I did find one image of a younger man which I have used as an illustration for this essay. We are used to thinking of the prophets as being particularly elderly old men. Yet the Scriptures and those who study them seem to agree that Jeremiah was probably no more than a teenager when God called him to prophesy to King Josiah and his court.
Put yourself in the place of those who were asked to listen to Jeremiah. How would you react if a teenage boy came before you and denounced you as an idolater and told you that if you did not reform your ways God was going to destroy your kingdom. The result was rather predictable. Josiah ordered Jeremiah to stop prophesying. When he persisted, his courtly retinue plotted his destruction. The story of Jeremiah in the dry cistern was the result.
There is no question that the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah is one of the gloomiest books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jeremiah insisted throughout his preaching that the word he preached was not his own, but that he had been commissioned by God and could not alter God’s word. Jeremiah was accused of treason and of demoralizing the people of Israel. Of course, we know the end of the story. The king and his retinue as well as the people of Israel themselves did not heed Jeremiah’s word. The Babylonian captivity was God’s punishment for their refusal to heed the words of Jeremiah.
One could say that perhaps God did not make a very good choice in choosing such a young man to be God’s prophet. However, God has a way of choosing the most unlikely character. God chose Moses, a man with a speech impediment, to speak before Pharaoh. God chose David, a scrawny shepherd boy, to do battle with Goliath. God chose barren women such as Sarah and the wife of Manoah to bear God’s chosen representatives long after their normal childbearing years. Jesus continued in this tradition, choosing impetuous, foot in his mouth Peter as the first among the Twelve.
That tradition of choosing the least likely for important tasks has continued throughout the history of the Church. As the Preface for Holy Martyrs states, “For the blood of your blessed Martyr, poured out like Christ's to glorify your name, shows forth your marvelous works, by which in our weakness you perfect your power and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness, through Christ our Lord.” In other words, God often chooses the weak to confound the strong, the simple-minded to confound the wise, the young to upbraid the old. God chooses the least likely so that there can be no question about whose word is being spoken, whose strength is being displayed, whose will is being done. God acts through the least likely in order to make it clear that it is God who accomplishes great deeds, not the messenger or chosen representative. As St. John tells us: It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit . . . (John 15:16a)
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator