Listen to the Homily
Read the Homily
So, Jeremiah was forced down a cistern. Why, after so many centuries, are we still reading about this? We all have encounters with bullies. Why is it important for us to know that Jeremiah was in a cistern? The reason is this. Jeremiah is a prophet, and every experience of a prophet, every action and passion of a prophet, everything a prophet undertakes and everything a prophet undergoes, is typically a divine message. So what is God’s message to us through this story?
My friend invited me to go fly fishing in Pennsylvania, saying it’s the best place in the country—perhaps the world—to catch trout. Flyfish in Pennsylvania, are you putting me on? Shouldn’t the best trout fishing require traveling by a bush plane deep into the wilderness to the remotest brooks and streams? Don’t the gin clear waters of New Zealand contain the best trout in the world? Or the mighty waters of Alaska or of Canada? How do you get great trout in central Pennsylvania? There is an underground river in the middle of the state that feeds cold, clean, and highly oxygenated water—perfect conditions to support lots of bug life for fish. When I went to Pennsylvania, I called it the “Happy Place” because everything is always green from the limitless water supply under the ground—lots of healthy cornfields and happy cows. Even when the rest of the country is in brown with drought, the “Happy Place” will always have plenty of great clean water.
In the Holy Land where the people of God were dwelling, there wasn’t an unlimited natural reservoir under the ground. They had to depend on rainfall for water. So they had to build cisterns to collect water during the rainy season. They need that stored water throughout the six or so months of the dry season. So let’s say that I am in the Holy Land and I want to do a little cleaning around the house, give my tomato plants a drink, boil some potatoes for supper, or take a nice bath at the end of the day. I go to my cistern to collect the water I need. I lower down the bucket and… nothing. What? Where is all my water?! I climb down the cistern and I see wall damage. All the water drained out the cracks. So what do you think the first thing I am going to do that day? I am going to fix the cistern. I need my “Happy Place.”
When they threw Jeremiah down an empty broken cistern, the prophet saw the cracks and delivered his message to the people. He told them that they are like a broken cistern, broken relationship with God, broken covenant, and broken commandments. So Jeremiah tells them what I would do if I had a broken cistern: fix it. Maybe it is not easy to fix.
My mother had a brother, so he would be my uncle. I never meet him, I have no idea what he looks like or where he lives and we have never received a Christmas card from him. After he had an argument with his dad, he severed his relationship with his family. You would think after fifty years of silence he would say, “Well, I am a lot older now, I am better at life now than when I was a teen, and he is my dad, I should give him a call and take him to lunch.” I talked to my mother about this: “I want to meet my uncle, maybe he will want to give me a Christmas present.” She said to me, “Oh no, Peter, you don’t understand. I will never see my brother again.” That is when I realized that sometimes the hurt is so deep and painful that the relationship cannot be fixed.
My two friends got married. They were best friends and they had a lot of fun together. Everyone said that God personally arranged this marriage. They had a couple of arguments, they separated, and I don’t think they will ever get back together again. It is sad, but sometimes the hurt is so deep that it cannot be repaired. Why is that? Two reasons. First, we are flawed; we are not perfect. We get tired, we say something, and before we know it, the situation goes south. Second, we are fragile. We get hurt very easily, making damaged relationships hard to repair.
Yet, Jeremiah’s message is hopeful. He tells us the Israelites to fix the relationship because it is easy to patch things up with God. God is not flawed and God is not fragile. God is slow to anger, rich in kindness and full of divine mercy. It is easy to repair relationships with God.
So let’s review. We are not perfect and we get hurt easily so relationships get damaged. Yet, if we can have some of God inside of us, if we can have God’s slow to anger, rich in kindness, forgiving and merciful spirit, we too can fix broken relationships quickly and easily.
Back to All Homilies