Friday, April 18, 2008

Jeremiah the Traitor

A few days ago I finished re-reading the book of Jeremiah. I think the last time I read it cover to cover was over 25 years ago when I was a seventeen-year-old seminary student. Now I realize I didn't have nearly the level of spiritual sophistication to appreciate how truly radical this text is.

Jeremiah's main message to the Kingdom of Judah was: Surrender. Under siege by the Babylonian Empire, Jeremiah repeatedly warned his compatriots not to resist, not to rely on some other super-power (namely Egypt) to save them. The Babylonians were carrying out the will of God! Surrender to them, he told them, go into captivity with them and you will be saved. Resist and you will be destroyed.

As one might imagine, his message didn't go over so well with the ruling classes of Judah. Understandably, they tried to silence him by assassinating him. When that failed, they did what any country does to traitors in a time of war. They tossed him into a dungeon and threw away the key. Jeremiah was eventually liberated... by the Babylonians, who as one might expect, treated him with gratitude for his propagandistic efforts on their behalf.

What a bizarre realm, this Empire of God, where the loyalties this world demands as its due hold no sway!

Of course, if Jeremiah's contemporaries -- both Jewish and Babylonian -- saw him a fifth column for Babylon, they were mistaken. Jeremiah's prophecies also contain foreshadowing of Babylon's doom. In fact, pretty much every nation in the region was pretty much doomed. One imagines Jeremiah thumbing through a 7th-century B.C. Middle Eastern atlas, saying, "Whoop, there's a country I forgot. Yup, you're pretty much doomed too." The pattern is all too clear. Is it a kingdom of this world? Yes? Doomed.

But the messages of doom are also paired with messages of redemption. And not just for Israel and Judah, but for their enemies as well. This is the other theme that startles me. Somehow we missed the part about non-Israelites being redeemed when we read this in Sunday School and Seminary.God will "bring again the captivity" (that quaint King James way of saying "redeem from captivity") Ammon, Elam, Moab, "every man [and woman] to his [and her] heritage, his [and her] land" (Jer. 12:15). This is a theme repeated on a larger scale in Isaiah and Ezekiel: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon... all will be redeemed.

But in the meantime, until that redemption, where must our loyalties lie? Not in this world. To be a disciple of Christ we should be like the Lakota heyokas, going backwards when everyone expects us to go forward, standing on our head with our feet up in the air when everyone expects us to have our feet on the ground. We should be like the hanged man in the Tarot, or Peter crucified, executed upside down because the world can't tolerate someone who doesn't see things the way they do.

But in the grand scheme of things, it is what this world expects of us that is backwards and upside down.


Potentate said...

That is interesting. I love going back to books after being changed by life.

J G-W said...

Potentate - thanks! I'm reading all of the standard works again for the first time. It has been quite an amazing experience for me.

lee woo said...

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