Today's lessons are very somber. The despair expressed in Jeremiah and the Psalm remind me of an event in a television show. Some of you may remember the television series of the 1990s – “Touched by an Angel.” Three angels were assigned to connect with people in distress to let them know that God loves them and hasn’t forgotten them.
One episode that stuck with me was about a young woman who escaped persecution by the Chinese government. She had to make a choice about saving her brother by returning to China. Her return meant that she would be imprisoned and tortured. The very last scene showed the young woman on her knees preparing to be whipped and the angel wrapping her arms and body around her like a shield. The angel and the young woman suffered the pain together.
Jeremiah and the Psalmist are voicing their pain. The first words that we hear from Jeremiah are:
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
The people of Judah were conquered by Babylon and they were exiled. It was a time when Judah lost everything – the land, the sacred temple, and their king. The Babylonians had authority over everything: government, property, religion, business. The peasants and slaves remained, but the people who could subvert Babylon's authority were exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah was mourning for the loss of Judah.
Let’s take a moment to understand the history. When Saul died, the kingdom was split into two: Israel and Judah. Israel contained 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel. Judah contained the other 2 tribes.
The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were ruled by David and then his son Solomon. After that, they were ruled separately. Israel was conquered by Assyria (~740 BCE) about 150 years before Judah was conquered by Babylon (~597 BCE). The conquest of Judah, which included Jerusalem, was about six hundred (600) years before the time of Jesus.
The Psalm is lamenting the same loss – the conquest and exile of Judah:
1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance; they have profaned your holy temple; * they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you * and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob * and made his dwelling a ruin.
The destruction of Jerusalem, including the holy temple, meant that the people of Judah had no home or power. In addition, the destruction of the temple signified that God was homeless as well.
Continuing the somberness of today’s lessons, the gospel parable talks about how a man faces ruination. His employer learned how the manager was squandering his property. He confronted him and demanded an accounting of his property and fired him.
The lesson and Jesus’ comments are complex at best. But what if we focus on the loss that this manager is facing? His whole world is falling apart.
Immediately before this story, the gospel tells the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son and the manager share the characteristic of wasting away their gifts – the son his inheritance and the manager his position of honor and trust. The two men make a decision to repent and improve their lives. The son to stop living as a beggar. The manager to avoid becoming a slave or a beggar.
Jeremiah and the Psalmist also wanted their situations to change. Today’s reading of the Psalm ends with the Psalmist asking God for salvation:
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; * deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name's sake.
Today's readings lead us to recall our deepest moments of despair. We all have had difficult times. Some of us have even faced life-threatening experiences. At those times, we may have chosen to submit to despair or tried solutions that offered no peace.
At some point, we found the sanctuary of peace and protection in God. Using the words from a Forward Day by Day meditation: When we shout to heaven, as Jeremiah and the Psalmist did, God hears our cry. From the deepest pits of our lives, God lends words of comfort and leads us out of the wilderness into pastures of peace—where springs of love restore us.
That deep wellspring of love is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the letter to Timothy, the author says: "5 For there is but one God, and one man who is the mediator between God and men: Christ Jesus. 6 For he gave himself to death as a ransom for the salvation of all"
The good news of the gospel is that, yes, God hears our pleas. Our pleas for help, for deliverance from our afflictions, for forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord knows our hearts and our desire for repentance of our sins.
In the Gospel of John, we have the most famous and familiar saying: "16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but have eternal life.”
And in the next verse – “17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save him through him."
Yes, there are times when we're in pain. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we waste away our gifts. Yes, we weep when we feel alone and abandoned. Yes, we repent time after time after time.
And in the middle of all that pain and despair, God is with us. Yes, the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the strength to survive our afflictions and overcome our problems. Jesus Christ gives us hope and the possibility of a new life. Through the power of the resurrection, Jesus makes it possible to become the person that God created us to be.
Thanks be to God!