I hardly can count the times of consternation I've had when people have claimed out of context God's promise to the exiles in Babylon via Jeremiah 29:11, "I know the plans I have for you... to give you a future and a hope." The God whose Word enacts resurrection to new life from the most morbid of deaths does have a future in store for everyone, one far more abundant than our most extravagant hopes. We acknowledge scripture as God's word for us, but latching onto this passage because it feels good is blatant (or maybe pathetic) eisegesis. Holding onto that verse without the full context omits the condition of God's promise: obedience. As Walter Brueggemann points out in Out of Babylon, "this text urges coming to terms with the empire as the unavoidable matrix for Jewish well-being. [page 8] and "...it is Babylon that becomes (for now) a venue for shalom." [page 9] We know Jeremiah lived deeply informed by and responsive to the tradition of Deuteronomy with its demands of hospitality and care for all, of covenantal obedience—its emphasis on forgiveness, grace, and newness.
5Build houses, and dwell in them; plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them... 7But seek the welfare [well-being; shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare [well-being; shalom] you will find your welfare [well-being; shalom].My citation's intentional—a scripture snippet from the same chapter and historical exilic context, words that relate to wherever we are and constitute a call for us to look around right here and now–not backward or foreword in time, not geographically across town or to another hemisphere, though a different city or cultural setting well may form part of God's future for us. In every case the word for "welfare, well-being" in the Hebrew text is a shalom derivative. Like some states of the USA, you also could use the common-wealth designation.
A couple weeks ago for Porch Stories I touched on some implications of shalom. I assume most readers won't backtrack to my earlier post, so I explained:
the Hebrew word and concept "shalom" extends far beyond absence of war or conflict; shalom intrinsically belongs to God's manner of living together in community, whether that "common unity" is nuclear-extended family, a particular group that gathers around Word and Sacrament as a local expression of God's called-out assembly—ecclesia; a school of any educational level dedicated to providing the best for students and teachers, a neighborhood within a city striving not to neglect anyone's needs, aiming to provide that shalom-filled "enough" food, shelter, hope, and friendship to all comers of all ages and stages. It's true when the apostle Paul and his successors open their letters with "Grace and Peace" their word for peace is the Greek eirene that gives us "irenic" in English, but with Saul/Paul's Hebrew background his offer of the peace of Jesus Christ had to be fullness of care-filled community where no one lacked, not one had more than they needed. Paul, etc. did not refer to no-apparent-conflict or to the not-Roman, not-peace-filled Pax Romana.It's Wednesday after Lent 4; churches that follow the liturgical calendar have journeyed more than halfway through the season of Lent. When Lent ends, the Three Days of the Triduum begins with Maundy Thursday, whose texts and liturgy retell and show us Jesus' mandate (or command) to serve one another in the way he demonstrates by washing the feet of his disciples and by instituting the freedom feast of the Lord's Supper or Eucharist—the long-standing Jewish practice of remembering by re-enacting God's people's Passover from slavery and death into life and liberty, but with a new emphasis and completion into a greater, shalom-filled redemption. Right there in the midst of where any observant Jew would have been on that day, Jesus seizes the here and now and charges his friends to "do this." Repeat this blessing and breaking of bread, this pouring-out of wine? "Do this" blood of the covenant announcement? Yes, in a sense!
Similar to how a passover seder meal and a eucharistic feast re-member liberation and resurrection with all of our five senses, we serve our neighbors' whole lives by constructing houses and planting gardens. More than once I've heard how ministering to people doesn't necessarily mean giving them what they want; it means giving them – or helping them get – what they need. What could be more essential and life-engendering than shelter and food, more shalom-restoring than creating community filled with friendship and hope, where we look around right now and right here, when we notice and attend to everyone's needs and even to some of their wants? Creating shelter from trees, leaves, vines, and sod; out of a well-tended earth—growing food. Breaking open the flesh and substance of our own lives and hearts, pouring out our essence in time, labor, and talent in service to others. Our own "little deaths" that contribute to the liveliness and well-being of others.
The Three Days of the Triduum begins with Maundy Thursday, with texts and liturgy related to Jesus' mandate (or command) to serve one another in the way his entire life has. This long-standing Jewish practice remembers by re-enacting God's people's Passover from slavery and death into life and liberty, but with a new emphasis and completion into a greater, shalom-full redemption that reflects God's manner of living together in the common unity of covenantal community. "A greater redemption?" Today is Thursday, tomorrow's Friday—Sunday's coming!