One of the things that you very often hear people speak about is bullying. Children often report it, that it happens to them. Quieter children are often set upon by children who who can make their lives miserable. Especially face book can be a platform in which people gang up against another and bully them. But it is not only the domain of children, it can happen in the adult world. Employers can also bully their workers. Stronger individuals can dominate and coerce individuals. It can happen also in marriages or relationships. The effects of it can be devastating, confidence and self worth can be damaged. It can be one of those things that people can’t find a way out of and it can go for years, a person can find themselves and feel themselves trapped. It can sometimes start simply with a word and a joke and then before you know it can turn nasty and be sustained.
One of the things about bullying is that it makes us all uncomfortable, although everyone hates the thought of being a bully it is in all our power to be a person, in family, in the work place, in the place where we live, amongst our friends. It makes us all uncomfortable. It is something we need to guard against, there is always a fine line which we can easily cross.
The prophet Jeremiah in the first reading is bullied by his fellow countrymen. He is bearing a message from God that they don’t much like and don’t want to hear. The nation is about to be invaded by a stronger power and instead of telling them what they want to hear he tells them something different. He is set upon by people, people spread stories about him, people ridicule him, people don’t talk to him and then eventually they gang up against him and throw him down a well, hoping that he will be forgotten or drown in the mud.
People who are bullied, not always but sometimes, find a champion, someone who sticks up for them, someone who can see exactly what is going on, someone who has the courage to stand out from the crowd and get people to come to their senses. In that moment the balloon bursts, the bullying stops, the dogs are called off. But sometimes it is too late, the damage is done.
What the prophet Jeremiah says is that God is the one who is our champion. When things are at their worst he is always on our side. When we are alone he is with us. When people say the worst about us he is there to reassure us that the words are not true and they cannot harm us. He is the one who will avenge us, make things right, restore the balance, bring people to their senses. This is what Jeremiah believes, that God will rescue him from his enemies, that he will lift him up from the pit that he has fallen.
For the person who is bullied they often think it will never end, there will not be a good outcome, that things will not turn out well. We have all heard of such situations that do not end well.
Instead in the reading from Jeremiah he thinks, believes, trusts and hopes that that there is going to be a different outcome. That God will not abandon him but he will avenge him. He believes that there will be an end to the taunts, an end to the isolation, an end to their violence.
Infact there is nothing to tell him that it is going to end, instead of ending it grows worse until in a final act people throw him down the well to die in the mud. The only thing that he is left with is his trust in God that it will not stand.
To avert bullying needs a self examination that our actions and our way of thinking don’t lead in this direction. To avert bullying we have to have courage to stick up for a person who is set upon by others. To avert bullying we have to stop ourselves becoming part of the pack of dogs. To avert bullying we have to put a guard over lips for those hurtful words that come out of our mouths that damage others.
But when we are bullied we have to believe that there are solution, short term and long term. We have to believe the thing will end. We have to believe that we are stronger than people’s words, judgements and insults. We should not lose hope, when all seems difficult - God is always on our side, he has not abandoned us and he will let us, like Jeremiah, triumph over our situation.