Why do Indians boast of themselves

02/12/2006: Prof. Dr. Wilfried Härle on Jer 9,22f


Sermon on Jer 9:22 f.

from Sunday Septuagesimä 2006

held on February 12, 2006 in the semester closing service

Peterskirche, Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Harle


Scripture reading: 2 Cor 11: 16-18 and 21b-30

Songs: EG 445,1-2 and 4-6; 180.3; 194,1-3; 355.1 + 3-5; 171.1-4

Sermon text: Jer 9, 22f

“Thus says the Lord: A wise man do not boast of his wisdom, a strong man do not boast of his strength, a rich man do not boast of his wealth. But whoever wants to boast, boast that he is wise and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises mercy, justice and righteousness on earth; for such things are pleasing to me, says the Lord "(Jer 9:22 f.)

Dear Congregation,

In this short sermon text, the two words appear five times, around which everything obviously revolves: “to boast”. As far as I can see, this phrase does not appear in our colloquial language any more than it does in our educational language. We either speak in a critically derogatory tone of 'showing off' or 'boasting' of a person or - more subtly - that someone is proud of themselves, of an achievement or of a quality. Boasting is a mixture of both. Those who boast express with words, gestures or facial expressions, that is, with signs, that they have reason to be proud of themselves. In this case, the Hebrew language offers us a good bridge for understanding, almost even better than the German; because 'to boast' in Hebrew means 'hallel', that is, 'to sing a hallelujah to yourself'.

As you know, the Bible doesn't think much of that. As clearly as she calls on people to praise and praise God, she warns against self-fame and self-praise. The apostle Paul in particular addresses this again and again in his letters and has an extremely critical relationship to boasting, although - as we have heard from the altar reading - he occasionally, when provoked by his opponents, also put on the fool's cap and himself can boast once vigorously vigorous Of course, he then immediately says that this has now been said “not according to the Lord” (2 Cor 11:17), and that sounds like a plea to the Lord for indulgence for this slip-up. It is also Paul who in 1 Corinthians gives the most convincing theological justification for the criticism of boasting: “What do you have that you did not receive? But when you have received it, what do you boast about, as if you had not received it? ”(1 Cor 4: 7).

Our sermon text begins with such a negative, warning tone: “A wise man boast Not in his wisdom that a strong man boast Not of his strength, let a rich man boast Not of his wealth. ”But then comes an interesting turn of the thought:“ But whoever wants to boast, boast that he is clever and knows me ”. That sounds like a concession to those who obviously can't help but boast. Then they should at least boast about the right thing and be proud of it.

It is noteworthy that our text Not says: Whoever wants to boast, boast not of himself, but God, but that that Yourself- boasting - if perhaps with some hesitation - is accepted as a human possibility. Does it express the idea or the knowledge that people need something to be proud of? Can people be happy, content, grateful when they have nothing to boast about?

In researching the causes of the use of violence in schools and the susceptibility of young people to nationalist slogans, scientists repeatedly come across the phenomenon of a lack of recognition, confirmation and self-confirmation as one of the explanations. If you have no academic record, you may use your physical strength to impress others and yourself and to prove that you can do something. And if you don't have a school-leaving certificate or an apprenticeship, you may at some point just be proud of being German - which nobody can take away from you - and then let all non-Germans feel it accordingly.

With all these considerations and observations, the initial contrast shifts away from the question: "To boast or not?" To the question: "What should we boast about ourselves and others?" It becomes clear that this is also the nerve of our text the fact that three values ​​are conspicuously juxtaposed: wisdom, strength and wealth on the one hand - each marked with a “not”, and mercy, law and justice, d. H. Community loyalty on the other hand - combined with the sentence: "because I like this, says the Lord".

The most difficult thing for me is the devaluation of the wisdom. And I don't want to get out of there by pointing out that the Hebrew word for wisdom can also denote technical knowledge and wit or cleverness. Because, as a rule, 'chokma' stands for spiritual and worldly wisdom, in which deep insight and right measure are combined with one another. No, wisdom is definitely not bad in and of itself. And strength and wealth are not bad in themselves either. But when you contrast them with mercy, justice and loyalty to the community, they fall a little off. This is shown by the fact that wisdom, strength and wealth are inherently beneficial above all to those who have them. Perhaps one can even say: wisdom, strength and wealth distinguish people from one another, often separate them from one another, sometimes even bring them into one Opposition and enmity to each other because with your wisdom, strength and wealth you can frighten, intimidate and dominate others. Mercy, justice and loyalty to the community, on the other hand, naturally connect people with one another, they bring other people and the common good into focus, because there is no mercy and no right and no loyalty to community that does not affect fellow men and human community related. And it says: "I like this, says the Lord". And that is why the sermon text recommends us whose to boast if we want to boast.

And yet there remains a strange, unpleasant residue that is always associated with self-fame, even when boasting refers to mercy, justice and loyalty to the community. The vernacular expresses this remaining residue drastically and aptly in two words: "Self-praise stinks". And where it stinks, most people don't like to stay longer than is absolutely necessary.

I suspect this is an experience that we all know from ourselves or from others: Suddenly a conversation piece sounds like someone is saying: “I'm just great, great, great. I succeed in everything ”. And so there is always - consciously or unconsciously - one at the same time devaluation connected to the other. If we were still children, then we would probably respond with the assertion: "I am even greater, even greater and even better". As adults, we find such self-praise embarrassing - and usually not only with others, but, if we notice it, with ourselves too. When someone prides themselves in this way, an embarrassing silence often ensues in a conversation. The atmosphere is strained, the conversation maybe even broken. What can you say about that? And whoever this happened to, who sang his own Hallelujah, may be ashamed and angry with himself.

But if we do that desire have to be proud of something, what we have, what we are particularly good at, what we have achieved particularly well - do we have to keep it quiet or suppress it?

Our sermon text leads out of this impasse Not out, but with the keyword 'mercy' he points in the direction in which an outcome could lie: If it is right that everyone needs something to be proud of, then it would be in line with the concept Mercy indicates when we have this hunger for recognition not in ourselves but in other would breastfeed. Perhaps this is already possible when we feel our own hunger, but when mercy opens us up to others at the same time in such a way that we can give them some of the recognition, praise and fame that they need to live. And maybe the motive for that would be knowing what it feels like to be hungry. It could be an even stronger motive if we remember what it has meant to us when we have received such mercy, perhaps unexpectedly and undeservedly.

If many people are gripped by this impulse of mercy, then there is a possibility that all to be able to get full enough; for in contrast to self-fame, in which everyone is only concerned with himself and therefore there are only as many praised as there are praised, are the praising of others purely quantitative no limits - but there are qualitative: Boasting other people is not allowed dishonest be still calculating. It would be dishonest if we were to praise something in another person that we are not convinced of or that we do not consider positive at all. And when a person realizes this, then he is understandably even more hurt and offended than if this attempt had not been made at all. The boasting of others would be calculative if we were to a certain extent “playing over the edge” or fishing for compliments, that is, hoping for something in return. Then praising the other would be nothing more than a technique or a trick that only shows that we are not deeply touched by mercy.

That is why it would probably not be advisable to start praising others as if with a new technique on the way home from a church service. Perhaps it is enough to think in peace about who needs such boasting in our immediate and even immediate surroundings as urgently as our daily bread. And in doing so, the peace of God, which is higher than all reason, preserve us.



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