Even good people get criticized. After reading today’s scripture reading it seems it may be more accurate to say "good people get criticized more than most!"
The prophet Jeremiah was certainly a good person. As we look back on the history of our religious tradition, he stands out as one of the very best. Yet, in today’s reading, as in many other places in the Book of Jeremiah, he is lamenting the constant criticism he is receiving from so many of his peers, especially the religious leaders of his time. He comes to the realization that they are not only critical of him but "are hatching plots against me." The religious leaders set out to destroy Jeremiah’s reputation and ultimately, by their false testimony about him and constant harping against him, got him thrown into prison. No doubt they were pleased that they had destroyed his reputation and forced him out. Ironically, it was Jeremiah’s vision and witness that sustained the people of Israel during their darkest experiences of defeat and exile.
It seems that Jesus is having a similar experience in today’s Gospel. It begins on a positive note with some wondering whether Jesus is "one of the prophets" or perhaps "the Christ." But soon descends into bickering about where he’s from (Galilee? Bethlehem?), who his parents are, is he of the royal line of David, etc., etc.! The arguments grow more truculent and the enemies of Jesus grow more determined when the soldiers refuse to arrest Jesus when ordered to do so. Clearly, the chief priests and the Pharisees continue to malign Jesus and will soon plan his destruction.
It may be me, but it seems that there is a lot of criticism bandied about these days. Political leaders, church leaders, local community leaders, members of school boards, parishioners and fellow citizens all seem to be fair targets for someone. Accusations and denunciations are made with little or no concern about whether they are true. The more scandalous or scurrilous the charges the more play they are given in the media, on the internet or over the back fence. Few seem to worry about the impact the gossip has on not only the people targeted but also their families and friends.
It was this same kind of toxic atmosphere that ultimately imprisoned Jeremiah and killed Jesus. Perhaps part of our Lenten renewal could be a refusal to enter into the free-flowing game of criticizing those around us, whether they be family, personal friends, or local and national leaders. Christ’s call to love one another is the true path for us.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of lay formation for Holy Cross Province and is stationed at Immaculate Conception Retreat in Chicago.