“Shout with joy for Jacob! Hail the chief of nations! The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel.” The Prophet Jeremiah’s exultant proclamation of salvation is an amazing expression of hope in the face of overwhelming adversity. The Jerusalem that Jeremiah inhabited was teetering on the point of disaster. Soon the Temple, and indeed everything that spoke of God’s presence, would lie in ruins. The survivors, a pitiful remnant, would be carried off into exile. In the words of the psalm, they would indeed go out full of tears. Despite the darkness, Jeremiah, in this passage, became a defiant voice of hope.
Although they would go out full of tears, they would return full of song. “See, I will bring them back, and gather them
from the ends of the earth. I will comfort them as I lead them back, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born Son.”
Few of us are familiar with the details of Israel’s history, but all can identify with the darkness that was the backdrop to Jeremiah’s words. Many today know the uncertainty created by unemployment and declining hope for the future. We cannot escape the crushing burdens of bereavement or the debilitating frailty of advancing years. Few families will escape the mounting tensions of a changing world. Some will know the agonies of broken relationships and alienation within the family.
At such times it is difficult to find hope, let alone Jeremiah’s confident joy.
Paradoxically, the darkness gave power to Jeremiah’s proclamation. The faith to which he summoned a broken people is a wonderful summons to the Year of Faith. Above all, even in the darkest hour, Jeremiah recalled Israel to that intimate relationship with God at the heart of faith. When they felt most abandoned he reminded them that God was as a Father to them, that they were loved as a first-born son.
The gathering of the remnant of Israel from the far ends of the earth speaks to all who have felt themselves to be abandoned and scattered. When we cannot gather our inmost selves, faith surrenders itself to the Father who gathers to himself “the blind and the lame, women with child and women in labour”. This litany of need speaks to the frailty that comes to all in a sinful world.
Mark’s account of the healing of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, announces that the salvation promised by Jeremiah is inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus. The exchange between Jesus and the beggar demonstrates the dialogue of faith. We approach God conscious of our frailty, longing for his healing: “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.”
Jesus asked a seemingly simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” It is in prayer that we allow ourselves to be addressed by this question. In the confusion of our many wants, let us allow the Spirit to guide us through the superficialities of life to a longing for God. Bartimaeus turned his longing into prayer: “Master, let me see again.”
During this Year of Faith let us pray for eyes that can see God, hearts that can discern his purpose. Like the crippled and lame that came to Jesus, let us pray that we might walk in his ways.
The response of Jesus was immediate: “Go, your faith has saved you.” Let us pray for the faith that opens the Church and every believer to God’s healing presence.