As I go off to teach at an inner city grade school (today’s the first full day of class), where I stick out like a sore thumb, here’s a reminder below that it’s okay to feel like a man “in exile” now and then.
[Note: this is a cross-posting from something I put up at a simple desire, a Mennonite scripture commentary blog for which my friend Will invited me to do entries now and then. Click the link on my blogroll to see what’s going on over there, and to get a little espresso shot of scripture while you’re at it.]
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“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” –Jeremiah 29:7
The hustle and bustle of a big city, and the difficulty of finding community and connection in that city or metropolitan area, can cause anyone to feel a bit “exiled” these days. It’s a paradox. We’re surrounded by people, but still feel we’re on our own. Our society talks about this dilemma as “falling through the cracks”, “keeping up in the rat race”, “looking out for number one” –all harsh images implying that life is a gauntlet one must run, and run alone.
This Jeremiah passage reminds us that a life of faith in this context is in fact a challenge. Not a challenge to entirely disengage from the needs and values of our society, but to be a beacon of hope within that society. While I’m no fan of the “prosperity gospel”, in which some believers take passages like this to spiritualize a very earth-bound materialism (”I know God loves me, just look how He’s prospered me!”), I also do not believe God endorses economic poverty as having any virtue in itself. God is still the God of abundance. He just wants everyone to share in that abundance.
Thus, in His eternal concern for justice and peace, God has regularly “carried” us into these complex relationships with people from other communities–even competing communities. We cannot easily demonize our enemies if we still have to go on living among them. By sharing circumstances with non-believers, and especially by serving those who do fall through the cracks, Christians create a witness to another way of living, freedom from want and freedom from the yoke of materialism. The good news of Jesus is not that we can’t own anything, it is that we don’t have to define ourselves by the level of our wealth and prosperity.
To be employed, to make plans for the future, to want social stability: these are all good things. While still recalling Jesus’ advice not to worry about tomorrow, we need to pray that, for today, we can make friends across traditional boundaries of race, class, geography and the other “foxholes” that push people apart, all of which keep us in fear of the interdependence God demands in order to live the kingdom way.