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Lenten Meditation: Guided toward Excellence

Presbyterian author and theologian Eugene Peterson reflects upon God’s challenging questions to the prophet Jeremiah at a pivotal point in his ministry:

Every one of us needs to be stretched to live at our best, awakened out of dull moral habits, shaken out of petty and trivial busy-work. Jeremiah does that for me. And not only for me. Millions upon millions of Christians and Jews have been goaded and guided toward excellence as they have attended to God’s word spoken to and by Jeremiah.…

There is a memorable passage concerning Jeremiah’s life when, worn down by the opposition and absorbed in self-pity, he was about to capitulate to … a premature death. He was ready to abandon his unique calling in God and settle for being a Jerusalem statistic. At that critical moment he heard the reprimand: “” (Jeremiah 12:5).… Biochemist Erwin Chargaff [1905–2022] updates the questions: “What do you want to achieve? Greater riches? Cheaper chicken? A happier life, a longer life? Is it power over your neighbors that you are after? Are you only running away from your death? Or are you seeking greater wisdom, deeper piety?” [1]


Peterson imagines the conversation between God and prophet:

Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny. Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah, do you want to shuffle along with this crowd, or run with the horses?.…

It is unlikely, I think, that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question. The ecstatic ideals for a new life had been splattered with the world’s cynicism. The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him. He weighed the options. He counted the cost. He tossed and turned in hesitation. The response when it came was not verbal but biographical. His life became his answer: “I’ll run with the horses.”


~Submitted by Ann

[1] Erwin Chargaff, Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life before Nature (New York: Rockefeller University Press, 1978), 122. Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 16, 17–19.


Readings for Today: Isaiah 49:8–15


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