“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Holy One on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” — Jeremiah 29:7
As we take up our Lenten journey in earnest this month, we may be tempted to think in terms of “individual spirituality” vs. “doing justice.” Lent is a season that lends itself to withdrawal, when we take a deeper look at our own faith, spirituality and beliefs. The state of political and social discourse is so mean and acerbic that it is natural to want to get away from it, to go inside ourselves and leave the matters of the world to others.
But it is also possible to look outward and think in terms of what our God desires for us as communities. It can be as spiritually enriching to enhance our human relationships as it is to deepen our relationship with God.
When the people of Israel were taken into exile in Babylon, they probably didn’t want to have empathy for their captors, to seek the well-being of people who had conquered them and forced them away from their “Promised Land.” But the prophet Jeremiah challenged them with a message from God that their welfare was closely connected to the welfare of those around them.
Perhaps in this Lenten season, we might take on an added responsibility of working for justice.
How many of our community’s ills would be eased if more people took seriously our responsibility for making sure justice is done?
On Feb. 19, I joined Carolyn Somer and Charissa Roach for UCC Day at the State Capitol. The event was sponsored by the Coalition of Religious Communities, of which our church is a member. We were there to lobby our senators and representatives about issues related to justice for the poor in Utah: a proposed sales-tax on food, Medicaid expansion, a tax break for those who hire homeless people, and more. Some of our elected legislators refused to come out of the chamber to speak to us; others did come out but were angry and belligerent; most were pleasant and listened to our concerns politely. Who knows what effect our efforts will have. Regardless, we were there to speak for those who have no voice in our political system – to seek the well-being and welfare of our neighbors.
Naming the injustices we see every day can be just as much a spiritual practice as meditation and prayer. Time after time in the Bible, we are given instances in which God says that God prefers “doing justice” over worship and prayer. If you can’t do both, God seems to say, then give me justice. For in seeking the welfare of those around us, we secure welfare for ourselves.
In Christ’s peace,