The mighty walls of Zion breached as I watched Babylon pour through her streets. Men, women, children cut down by the sword. Screams all around me, one long horrible outcry of agony. Thousands trussed up like cattle and marched away to the foreign land where no mulberry tree can grow.
Where is God? Can He be in Babylon? He is the God of Judah. Will He follow us to a foreign land?
God’s message to Zedekiah was to trust God, have faith and return to him. Can I do less? Abraham trusted God, gave up his life in Haran and followed His Word to a foreign land, our land given to us by God and the Faith of Abraham. Surely, God will be with us in Babylon.
It will not be easy living with those who do not know God. Yet, I have been living with my own people who do not know Him; can it be so different?
It is fair to say that few Christians find much comfort in reading Lamentations; yet, it is there. You have to read through a great deal of suffering and sadness before you find any relief and then only a vague promise that it will end sometime.
Why is it in the Bible? There are several answers, but in the context of the four Scripture readings, it is there to remind us of what it means when we choose to live without God. Simply put, if I follow God I can live in Jerusalem, but if I do not follow God, I will live in Babylon.
Psalm 137 is also a lament, possibly composed as a song shortly after the return to Judah to remind the people of the dangers of disobeying God.
Paul deals with faith in his second letter to Timothy. Faith is the issue that binds each of these four readings. It’s worth noting that Timothy’s father was Greek, so Timothy needed some special instruction from Paul. Timothy was considered Jewish, however, because his mother was Jewish. Paul praises her faith and that of his grandmother Lois. We should not doubt that both women taught the faith to the boy as he grew, but he was expected to follow the religion of his father. That presented a conflict for the boy that Paul helped him resolve.
In verse 12, Paul says, “That is why I am suffering….” It is because of preaching the Good News that Paul has been beaten and thrown into prison. It is suffering for the right reasons, but it is suffering nonetheless. He no doubt had an understanding of the suffering of Jeremiah and the Hebrews in Babylon that most of us can never appreciate. Even if they had earned the punishment, it still hurt.
The reading in Luke last week was of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There are four short verses in between that reading and today’s. It is a short reminder by Jesus to his disciples that sin would happen and it should be forgiven by them. There is a whole lesson in those four verses, but that is for another time. It does set the stage for the twelve to ask Jesus to increase their faith.
Their conception of faith was that it could run from zero to ten on a sliding scale. If they were at seven, they wanted to move up, hopefully all the way to ten. Jesus probably shook his head once again at their lack of understanding as he began to explain faith.
We all operate on faith every day. We have faith that other drivers will stay on the left side of the road and stop at stop signs, even as we remember times our faith was disappointed. That is a kind of sliding scale faith. I cannot fully trust other drivers; I reserve the right to consider them dangerous.
Jesus says something quite different. Faith in God is or is not. I believe or I don’t. It is on or off.
The reason is explained by Jesus in the short parable of the obedient servant. His servant has been working in the field with the master, but when they return to the house the servant is expected to prepare the meal, somewhat the way American men treat their wives. The master has hired the servant to do that work and the servant should expect no less, certainly not expect praise for doing his job.
How does that explain faith, you may be asking? Remember that Jesus was talking to the apostles. They needed to understand what they were getting into by being his talmidim. A talmid was a student of a rabbi and they had a unique relationship. They lived together, each talmid taking turns preparing meals and doing the chores. In addition to learning from the rabbi, the talmidim were expected to become like the rabbi, to imitate him in the best way possible. While they were close, they were always master and servants.
Faith is having trust in the master. Part of that is the expectation that the master is always looking out for the talmidim. Jesus reminds his apostles that he will always protect them as they do the things he has taught them to do.
It is the same lesson learned in the Babylonian exile. When the people of God had finished crying, they began to realize how foolish they had been. They repented and returned to God. They became faithful servants again.
Being faithful is not the same as understanding. Having faith is not having knowledge. If I am told by my Master to walk a dark road, I must trust that He knows what He is doing and that I will be cared for. If I have to fight off dangers and struggle to live, I cannot expect a reward. Like a good soldier, I have done my duty and I should expect to keep on doing it without praise, secure in the knowledge that God knows what I have done.
Heaven, the New Jerusalem, is not my reward for doing good deeds. Heaven is the place God may choose to put me if He wants to, regardless of my actions, good and bad. If I stay faithful by doing what is expected of me, I take comfort in knowing that God will take care of me.
Those of us who follow Jesus live in a foreign land. This earth and these bodies are not home. We have faith that God wants more for us, that He has a special place for us when our work as servants is complete. But here we have to live for now with those who do not know or care about God. We have to find our way in a hostile world.
Be righteous and do good.