I am challenged by the empathy of a prophet. Even in all his distaste for Judah’s rebellion and discouragement about his nation’s future, Jeremiah refused to disconnect himself from them. Showing himself to be a true intercessor, he chose to identify himself with their sad situation. Such feelings are evident when he wrote, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people. “They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the Lord. “Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 8:21-9:6).
Would it have not been easier to dismiss them? To be disgusted with their practices? After all, they were the ones who had chosen to turn away from God and towards pagan idols. Were they not just getting what they deserved? Jeremiah really had every right to just be angry. He lost his land, too – even when he was innocent! Could he not have just separated himself from the crude world in which he lived – assuring that God looked at him differently. I am not like those people! To look above reproach (and safely out of harm’s reach). Think of all they had thrown away. The land of promise was now in Babylonian possession. Of all they had tarnished because of their foolish decisions. Hadn’t Jeremiah done his part in attempting to rescue them? Wasn’t he obedient in sharing the message of repentance (that Israel turn from their wickedness and return to covenant relationship with God)? They were the ones who refused to listen. They were the ones with the hardened hearts. The stiff necks. They were the unteachable. The unreachable. Yet, Jeremiah’s natural response was to . . . weep. He chose to cry for them. He chose to cry alongside them. He did not see them as hopeless . . . but hurting. He did not see them as banished . . . but beautiful (if only they would believe again). Jeremiah never saw the situation as if it was him versus them . . . he saw it as just us. He did not care if they admitted that he was right . . . he cared that they admit that they were wrong towards their Creator. He was willing to sit with them. To be seen with them. To share with them. He never compromised the message and yet he never complicated the methods – he still loved the people he was called to correct.
What would today’s church look like if only we walked beside the helpless? What would my church look like? How about yours? If only we remembered that grace is enough even for our enemies. If we chose to identify ourselves with our surrounding communities instead of hiding from them (or attempting to blend in with them). What if we just met them where they were instead of expecting them to come to us as someone they were not? Even for those who look different. Who vote different. Who have made terrible and tragic choices. Who have attacked us. Who have rejected us. Our tendency is to justify our indifference. We point out that they had chances and choices. They have addictions. They have agendas. They are beyond my expertise. Maybe even . . . they are beyond redemption and deserve to be where they are (and maybe even . . . they deserve to die). That is true . . . but isn’t that true for all of us? Christ came to give life – and life beyond what we could dream or imagine (earn or deserve). If it was not for the love of Christ . . . as hard as it is for us to admit this . . . we could be in their shoes, too. You and I, in one way or another, chose to live life the way we wanted (how we wanted and where we wanted). We could have done a whole lot of damage to ourselves and those around us. That is one reason I love to partner with the Los Angeles Dream Center every so often. No one can walk the streets of Skid Row or bring groceries to the children in the Watts without really examining their hearts. I cannot look into a person’s eyes and not find their value. I cannot escape the thought that God loves them as much as he loves me. Neither one of us can earn it. We can only accept it with gratitude and commitment. If only they would turn their allegiance towards the King . . . surrender to the fact that none of us were designed to lead our own lives. If only we as his church would think no higher of ourselves than we should . . . but grow in our presentation of truth and our extension of love. That we would identify with the world – not for what it is – but what it could be. When did following Christ become more about being right than about being righteous?