Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Have You Not Brought This On Yourselves?

Jeremiah 1-6 begins a sad string of stories, lyrical poems, potent laments, prophetic lambasts. Jeremiah is called to be a prophet while yet a young man, and he served till he was an old man. During his ministry Israel was overrun by Babylon and the citizens of Israel were hauled off into exile. Jeremiah was told up front that he would be ignored, would constantly need to be rescued, would be wounded deeply in his soul.

It seems clear that God is deeply wounded by Israel's rejection of him: "Has a (pagan) nation ever changed its gods - which aren't really gods - But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols."

God's covenant with the people of Abraham was made very clear - repeatedly - by Moses and then by Joshua: if you love God and keep his commandments, you will be blessed, you will become a blessing, and through you all the nations will be blessed; but if you do not love God and worship worthless idols, and if you do not keep his Torah, you will be cursed, and you will be punished, and experience the same fate as those were driven from Canaan when the Israelites made their home in the promised land.

So the punishment being preached by Jeremiah is not a surprise, is not reactionary, is not a violent act of passionate rage; it is the long-delayed result of constant betrayal, abuse of the poor, oppression of the foreigner, dishonoring of the elderly, apathy towards the weak, and disdain for God and his Torah-way. God sent prophet after prophet to turn his people away from their wickedness, but the prophets were put down. And so the brutal battle with Babylon will begin their exile: "Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!"

The punishment is both a natural consequence of a nation's wickedness and the divine intervention due to a long-held, and now long-violated covenant. At any point Israel could have returned to their God, but they wouldn't. God would have forgiven them and restored them and blessed them, had they repented of their sins, admitted their guilt, and walked according to the Torah. But for all the reasons that we find today amongst people caught up in patterns of behavior that infect and wreck lives, on their own they couldn't change their deadly momentum: "My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good."

God has Jeremiah proclaim this plea to the people: "Return, faithless Israel, and I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful, I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt - you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me."

What seems so hard for me and so many others: to admit that I am guilty of wrongdoing...against God or others. It was a mistake, a misunderstanding; it wasn't my fault, I didn't have a choice, it's not that big of deal, etc. But oh the devilish power of pride which cripples our ability to be honest with ourselves and God.

Yet the proclamation of God continues to fall on listening ears and penitent hearts. And so we continue to proclaim through our life and lips the faithful forgiveness of God which cures us and restores us.

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