Recently I heard a meditation on the subject of peace. The speaker read from Jeremiah 29:4-7. In this reading Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to tell his fellow Jews who were in exile in Babylon to come to peace with their being captives in a foreign land. He told them to make the best of what they were experiencing. They should build houses and plant gardens and settle down and get married and raise children.
I’m sure that when the Jews in Babylon first read Jeremiah’s words their first reaction must have been these are the words of a crazy man. They must have thought we have lost everything that mattered to us. We’ve lost our homes, our businesses, and our farms. We’ve lost our temple, the center of our religion. We’ve lost our capitol city. We have been transported to a foreign country. We are treated like dirt. We have no opportunities. We are surrounded by foreign customs and foreign foods. And now our religious leader is telling us that we should get comfortable with this! We should embrace this! As the Jews thought about Jeremiah’s words their instincts were telling them that they should fight their circumstances not come to peace with them.
I think many of us can relate to how the Jews felt in Babylon. Some of us have been pretty much in lock down since the COVID epidemic kicked in last March. We haven’t been able to see members of our families. We haven’t been able to go out to eat or out for entertainment. We are getting pretty tired of looking at the four walls and wondering how much longer is this going to go on? Some of us have lost our jobs and have had to scramble to find something to make a few bucks to keep our heads above water. We too are wondering how much longer before things ease up and business starts to pick up again? Some of us have entered the medical world of cancer treatment or some other serious illness that has changed our lives. We have spent too much time in the hospital or in the doctor’s office or in the clinic and now with visitor restrictions we have found ourselves not able to have a family member at our bedside when we need them the most. How long is this going to go on? Each of us in these kind of situations find ourselves in Babylon. We are in a place we don’t want to be. We may be scared. We may be angry. We for sure aren’t happy about this. So as God told the Jews in Babylon and He tells us today to go on living, to build houses and plant gardens, to make the most of the opportunities that lie before us, it is a little hard to accept these words. It’s a little hard not to reply with words of anger or reproach.
But before we do that let’s see if we can let Jeremiah’s words sit in our minds for a moment. If the Jews would have fought back against the Babylonians and refused to do anything, if they would have gone on strike and refused to work their plots of land, what would have happened? Either the Babylonians would have sent in soldiers and killed a great number of the Jews, or they would have let them starve to death because they wouldn’t plant crops and till the soil. In either case the anger and rebellion of the Jews would not have gained them anything positive. But as the Jews made the best of their situation and became good citizens of Babylon they not only ended up surviving but they began to prosper and the peace they found also blessed the country they were living in.
What happens if we are sitting trapped in our homes going stir crazy because we have so much time on our hands and then we begin to think of what could we do with our time rather than just watching tv or sitting there stewing in our resentments? What happens when we begin to use our time to write letters to friends and relatives we haven’t heard from in a long time? What happens when we email or talk on the phone or do a zoom session? We are only confined by the limits of our minds and our ability to think creatively of how we can still connect with those we love and hold dear.
What happens when we are hospitalized and our health is failing and we begin to realize that maybe our time on this earth may be coming to an end? We can refuse to accept what is happening to us. We can curse our fate. We can put all our energies into fighting to stay alive but then we run the risk of wasting the time we have to address some very important issues. Then we lose the opportunity to think about those we love and what do we want to say to them. What important instructions do we want to relay to our children about what we hope for them? What words of love do we want to speak to our spouse to let them know how much we have appreciated their love and support?
The phrase “Bloom where you are planted” seems to speak to all of us who are in places we never hoped to find ourselves in. We are like a seed that is blown by the wind. We wanted to be planted in a fertile garden but we have landed in a garbage dump instead. We don’t want to bloom and grow in a garbage dump. But maybe the garbage dump needs the life we can bring. Maybe our love and our gifts and our talents are needed in the nursing home, the hospital, the community we are confined in. We’ll never know unless we bloom where we are planted.
So, to all of you who are in exile in Babylon right now I say go on living joyously, fruitfully, and enthusiastically in your present circumstances and let me know if God does prosper your efforts and bring some peace to your hearts.