Babylonian Captivity

The prophet Jeremiah was sent by the Lord to warn the Hebrews about the impending Babylonian exile. He served as a prophet for more than 40 years. There are 52 chapters of Jeremiah, which is immediately followed by five chapters of his Lamentations. His message was so sad, he was called the weeping prophet and he gave us the word “jeremiad” which is a long list of woes or lamentations. If you have to be a prophet, you would much rather be Jonah with three days inside a fish and a short, successful preaching ministry than to be Jeremiah with 40 years of preaching to a community that rejects you, persecutes you, and ultimately ends up where you warned them they would go if they did no change their ways. The prophet Jeremiah had a pretty bleak ministry.

Jeremiah was telling the Hebrews they would be sent to Babylon for a couple of generations if they did not change their ways, and they did not, so they were exiled for 70 years. But even in the midst of serious troubles, even when our troubles last a long time, we still have faith and hope. In the reading today, from chapter 31, we hear Jeremiah preach faith to the doomed Hebrews. He promises, “They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them, so that none shall stumble.”

This is faith. Faith is one of the theological virtues, which means it is a gift to us from God. Faith is above our natural reasoning ability. If you were a teenager while Jeremiah was preaching, you could see you were going to Babylon and God seemed to not care about you. So, you might have asked yourself, what is the point of maintaining this religion when God is not helping me? Faith is the answer. Faith is believing in God and all that he has said or revealed to us because he is truth itself. Faith means God is still with us even when we cannot see him, and we can trust in his commandments and that he cares for us.

So, faith is the basic and firm conviction that God does not lie to us. Sometimes we are not very pleased with the truth and we prefer a lie, but God is the author of truth. Jesus said it plainly to his disciples in John chapter 14 (verse 6) when he said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then we have access to truth itself, and no lie can defeat it. Knowing that he is Truth, we can relax and trust him. It is faith that hears Jeremiah promise, “The Lord has delivered his people” and knows this is true even though it looks like we are headed for a Babylonian exile. We can trust God because God is truth itself. This is faith. It is a gift of grace from the Holy Spirit.

It is faith that makes the blind man in the Gospel today cry out to Jesus. Bartimaeus is blind, but he can see Truth. And that sight is better than eyesight. It spurs him to ignore the rebukes and keep calling to Jesus. And when he talks with God made Man, Bartimaeus does not hold back: “Master, I want to see.” Bartimaeus was physically blind, but his spiritual vision was 20/20. He recognized Truth itself, and he held on to it. His faith restored his eyesight. 

These readings are not only about faith. In the reading today, from chapter 31, we hear Jeremiah preach hope to the doomed Hebrews. He says, “I will gather them from the ends of the world, and they shall return as an immense throng.”

This is hope. Hope is another of the theological virtues, which means it is a gift to us from God. We cannot do “hope exercises,” we just are given the grace to hope. Hope is our desire for the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness. It is us placing our trust in God’s process and not relying on our own strength. Instead, we receive the gift of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. Ask, and you shall receive, Jesus said, so we should ask in prayer for an increase in faith, hope, and charity.

Let’s go back to that teenager living while Jeremiah was preaching. He might ask himself, what is the point since I am nearly 20 years old and the exile won’t end until I’m 90? Hope for that teenager is the knowledge that there will be an end to the Babylonian exile. Hope is for that teenager knowing that his true home is not in Babylon or even Jerusalem but in the bosom of Abraham. As Christians, we are in this world today in many ways as in a Babylonian exile, and our hope is Heaven. We are out there in our fields weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, as the Psalm sings today. But hope means we will come back rejoicing, carrying our sheaves.

When we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, when we hope, we grip this earthly life loosely. It matters little whether one is a mailman or a CEO in this life when one has hope; it matters much more how we live in our state of life. Hope helps us focus on the most important things. Many times, those important things are simple things. They are small things. They are private things. But they add up. And God sees them. Hope is that constant reminder that we are here in this life to show forth God’s goodness and to share in his everlasting happiness in heaven. Those important things are how we show his goodness in this life whether we are a mailman or a CEO. And they add up to everlasting happiness in heaven.

The response in the Palm we sang today is about faith: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

The last verses in the Psalm today are about hope: “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, They shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.”

God is real, and we can trust him. We can trust him even when we are exiled to our own Babylon. What he says is true because he is truth. There is no deception, there are no tricks from God. He is simple. He is trustworthy.

Heaven is real, and it is to our heavenly Jerusalem that we go when we are returned from our Babylonian captivity on our last day. We were made by God for Heaven, and he’s calling us home every single day. We are sojourners in a strange land, but he has prepared for each of us a room in his heavenly mansion. We go out weeping, but we will return rejoicing.

Let us all pray for an increase in faith and hope, that we might know, love, and serve God in this life so as to be with him eternally in the next life.

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