This blog posting below is from the Twentieth Sunday on August 14, three years ago. The scene is different in Europe and the United States now. Still we would do well to live by the words of Jeremiah 29.
On the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 18th) we will hear an uncomfortable and challenging message. It was felt more deeply in the first 400 years of Christianity than it is today. The challenge is still present. It is just different. The selection from Jer 38 tells us how Jeremiah warned the Israelites that their city would be conquered as a result of their failure to keep the Law. For this unpopular message, he was punished and barely escaped with his life. In the Gospel (Luke 12:49-53) Jesus, having fundamentally reinterpreted the Law, warns that following Him will lead to division. Families will be divided against one another.
For the early Christians, following Christ meant changing one's ethnic identity. For changing their message, Jewish Christians would no longer be united to Judaism. Roman and Greeks had to give up identification with their own people and religious practices - sometimes at risk of life and livelihood. Often they risked separation from family.
In modern America and Europe we have learned how to tolerate deep differences over religious messages under a code of tolerance. In many ways this is a good thing. The history of warfare over religious and ideological differences is not likely to be repeated. Yet deep differences remain and Christians often feel as if they are living in enemy occupied territory as C.S. Lewis writes. Our values differ in deep and fundamental ways, often invisible to the predominant culture.
To put it another way, we are exiles in a city as alien as ancient Babylon was to the Jews. Jeremiah wrote the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. We Christians are not in a physical exile. Yet we live in a society that has values as alien to ours as the Babylonians were to the Jews. We can be said to be in internal exile. Here is what Jeremiah wrote:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 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.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
As modern Christians we need to remember that our values are in conflict with our society. The question is: how do we deal with it? The gospel warns us that there will be times when families and friends will be divided over basic values. (As an example consider the message implied in the words pro-life and anti-abortion in the news media.) I'm inclined towards Jeremiah's view. We live in this society and should help it prosper and survive. At the same time we must never lose sight of our core values and consider ways to assert them while preserving a level of "domestic tranquillity." It is not up to us to end our exile by forcing a change in society's values. It is up to us to hold to our message and live by it.