Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem recalls the famous “Confessions of Jeremiah.” They also are known as lamentations, a form of prayer commonly found in the Psalms. Typically, psalms of lament included a direct address to God, a complaint describing a problem, a request for help, a statement of confidence in God, and praise of God for the help that will come. Sometimes they included a response from the priest or temple prophet speaking for God and assuring deliverance, followed by expressions of thanks. (LeClerc, Introduction to the Prophets, 232, 243).
Jeremiah’s laments so closely follow this model that some scholars believe they may be prayers added by editors. Even so, they help build a theology of prophets as faithful but suffering servants of the Lord. As our instructor Jim McGill said, Jeremiah actually made it acceptable to rail against God. Anger and hurt are human responses to suffering and are perfectly appropriate to express in prayers. Lamenting out loud may be considered part of the spiritual process.
Here are excerpts from the five laments:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper, why live all the treacherous in contentment?
Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth! A man of strife and contention to all the land.
Jeremiah 17: 14-18
Heal me, Lord, that I may be healed; save me that I may be saved; for it is you whom I praise.
Jeremiah 18: 18-23
But you, O Lord, know all their plans to slay me. Forgive not their crime; blot not out their sin in your sight.
Jeremiah 20: 7-18
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped … all the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.