Readings for Aug. 30:

Jeremiah 20:7-9
 Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
 Romans 12:1-2
 Matthew 16:21-27

In the first line of the first reading, Jeremiah the prophet levels an accusation at God: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” The Hebrew could also be translated, “You tricked me!” or even, “You seduced me!” That’s not the kind of thing you expect from a prophet.

If you look at Jeremiah’s situation, you can understand why he’s angry. God commissioned him to speak a message to his people: Because you’ve abandoned social justice and turned to false gods, God is going to let military disaster befall you.

Just about everyone hates this message and hates Jeremiah for delivering it. In addition, Jeremiah tells them: You’d better surrender to the approaching enemy. For this he’s hated even more. And he not only suffers the pain of rejection; he himself is horrified at the destruction and death that are coming.

Yet Jeremiah’s accusation isn’t quite right. God didn’t lure him into prophesying with promises of acceptance. When God called him to prophesy, he warned him there’d be opposition. “They will fight against you” (Jeremiah 1:19).

Jeremiah goes on to complain that God has trapped him in his vocation. When the prophet tries to repress God’s message and keep his mouth shut, it becomes like a fire burning him up inside, and he has to let it out.

After this point (not in today’s reading), Jeremiah’s prayer takes a couple of dizzying turns. He sings a hymn celebrating the victory God is going to give him over his enemies. (Where did that come from?) Then he pivots into despair, with a curse on the day of his birth. He ends: “Why did I come forth from the womb, to see sorrow and pain, to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:18).

What are we to make of this disturbed and disjointed prayer? Perhaps we should take it not as a model for imitation but as a demonstration. This is not necessarily what prayer should be, but it is what prayer sometimes is.

When we’re upset, we turn to God and pour out a jumble of raw feelings and unexamined thoughts. We say a bunch of things that don’t hang together.

And God is there. God listens. As the psalmist recognizes in the prayer that forms a response to Jeremiah’s prayer: “My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:9).