A Catholic reads the Bible, Week 33: Jeremiah's long-winded lamentations

The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah lives forever in the dictionary.

This is Week 33 of a yearlong series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3. Laura Bernardini is director of coverage in CNN's Washington Bureau. The views expressed in this column belong to Bernardini.

Laura Bernardini

(CNN)Jeremiah, the prophet, lives forever in the dictionary. He is the basis of the word: jeremiad.

Merriam-Webster defines this word as a "prolonged lamentation or complaint; also, a cautionary or angry harangue."
    Prolonged lamentation works perfectly: Jeremiah's book of the Bible is 51 whole chapters of warning about impending doom for Jerusalem.
    In chapter 52, Jerusalem is destroyed. So, safe to say Jeremiah was right, and those first 51 chapters are full of foreboding.
    Jeremiah started his prophecies at the age of 13 and ends up murdered by his own countrymen when he is in exile. A prophet's life wasn't easy, apparently. No one would listen to him. Then they killed him.
    Over and over and over again, Jeremiah warns the Jews about the consequences for their lack of faith in God. Jeremiah reminds them that Baal is not their God -- there is only one true God. And when no one listens, he resorts to threats.
    I collected my top threats for your reading enjoyment. I am not a list writer in my daily life. The "to do" list never ceases to end. But, as I was taking notes, I noticed that all I was highlighting were the threats.
    So here it goes:

    1. Wormwood

    In Chapter 9, "Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: See now, I will give them wormwood to eat and poison to drink."
    That sent me back to the dictionary. What is wormwood? It's a bitter shrub used for vermouth or absinthe. Or it's defined as a source of bitterness and grief. Both work here. No need to pick up any wormwood at the local greenhouse. Jeremiah uses this threat twice.

    2. Clay pots

    Sometimes, the best threats are based in what you know. Quoting God again, Jeremiah says, "I will smash this people and this city, as one smashes a clay pot so that it cannot be repaired." (Jeremiah 19:11) Everyone can figure that one out.

    3. Desert

    There is nothing worse than telling an Israelite that they are going to be going to be stuck in the desert forever. That happens too many times to count in Jeremiah. Be bad = doomed to the desert. And it is perfect during this time of Lent to realize there is no worse fate then being in the desert. Forever.

    4. Sodom and Gomorrah

    This comes up multiple times in Jeremiah, as well. It was interesting to me that it was a contemporary threat. It's like -- you know what happened to them? It will happen to you if you don't change your wicked ways.

    5. 'A woman in travail'

    This one sent me back to the dictionary. What in the world? Oh, it's pain like a woman in labor. Even in biblical times, that threat must have had resonance with the men hearing Jeremiah's wails. And it's funny to me that to this day, it still strikes fear in men. It transcends time.
    And I would give honorary mention to the threat of locusts. Astute readers will know that will always get me.
    After I had written this and submitted it to my editor, my friend John passed me something he has been working on that quotes Jeremiah.
    It was like another sign for me to read much more closely. Because while a jeremiad is a harangue, there was also some beautiful thoughts in the book.
    My friend John quotes Jeremiah 29:11: It's Jeremiah talking about the Lord in a letter to the elders of Jerusalem: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope."
    It was definitely God's plan for John to share his writing with me. I was so focused on the harangues, and in my defense, there are A LOT of them. But I shouldn't lose sight of the hope.
    On to Lamentations. Wait, isn't that basically what I just read?