He was acclaimed all over the world for his sporting achievements, including gold medals in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the London 2012 and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. We know him as Mo Farah but in a recent television documentary, he revealed that his real name was Hussein Abdi Kahin and that aged nine he had been taken by a woman he had never met, given a new identity and flown to London where he was forced to do housework and look after other children. With some difficulty he managed to enrol in a local school where his sporting talent was spotted, and after a few years was able to begin a new life, albeit still living under a false name. He has since been reunited with his family in Somalia.
This story reminds us of the dangers young people face in an adult world which exploits the vulnerable, especially women and children. The World Counts organisation reports that “1 in 4 of all victims of trafficking are children. As many as 1.2 million children are being trafficked every year to work as slaves on farms, mines and at industrial factories. Worldwide, up to 10 million children are trapped in modern forms of child slavery.”
Tomorrow’s Old Testament reading is about a young man feeling endangered by the adult world but for a different reason. Jeremiah is called by God to serve as a prophet to an errant people. He is terrified. “I am only a boy”, he pleads as he reflects on what he is being asked to do: “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
It is the 7th century B.C. and Babylon is a real threat to Judah. Jeremiah is frustrated that his people feel smug and carry on as usual when the situation is so serious: “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit….”Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.” Prophets and Priests are misleading the people – a theme taken up in the gospel which tells us that Jesus is condemned by the leader of the Synagogue for breaking the Sabbath laws by healing a crippled woman. Keeping rules was more important than making someone’s life better. In response Jesus points out that they would happily bend those same rules to rescue an animal. Church rules and business interests were more important than a person’s wellbeing – an attitude not unknown in business and church life even today.
Jeremiah was commissioned in his time to warn a complacent population of dangers ahead. We face a similar situation today but on a far larger scale. Climate change is a deadly reality, but public indifference and commercial greed make it difficult for governments to act even when they are willing to. Prophets, young and old, are ignored and dismissed because we the people, say.” Peace, peace, …where there is no peace.” We ignore the prophets at our peril for as the American theologian and author Aiden Wilson Tozer pointed out: “Scholars can interpret the past; it takes prophets to interpret the present” – prophets like Martin Luther King who said: “There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God … We have worshipped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes. and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in him that we must rediscover.”