(5 minute read)
Read Jeremiah 7:1–7:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.
One of the most consistent clarion calls of all the prophets is to care for the powerless. Here in Jeremiah, God actually makes his presence among his people contingent on whether or not they practice justice and eliminate oppression. He calls us to replace severity with mercy, shrewdness with generosity, security with risk, apathy with compassion, and fear with hospitality.
This call is so essential to the heart of Christianity that James tells us this: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). These two things are not as separate as they may seem. In fact, if our impulse toward holiness leads us to withdraw from the task of caring for others in need, we fail on both fronts. Purity is not a matter of personal piety; it is a social matter of justice and peace. In a world of war and oppression, the people of who bear God’s image are commissioned to communicate an entirely new socio-political reality on earth. While the world operates on power and privilege, the people of God are always and everywhere called to care for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. This is what it means “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is not something extra appended onto “the real gospel" of “saving souls.” Our care for the poor and powerless is the very condition of God’s presence among us.
The prophets constantly wrap up Israel’s idolatry and rebellion against God with the their failure to establish justice and peace in their society. When we reject our neighbor, we reject God—and vice versa. To teach us this, God himself became poor and powerless, so that maybe we could finally learn to see him looking back at us in the faces of refugees, social outcasts, the homeless, addicts, and orphans. God arrives at the margins—not to pull the outcasts in but to call out the safe, secure, and “normal."
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Tomorrow on the Daily Connection: Who Is My Neighbor?
About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC