Jeremiah is brutal in today’s lectionary reading (7: 1-11). He refuses to let the people rely on their public worship, their beautiful temple.
Instead he lays out their wrong doing and calls them to amend their ways:
Do not abuse the stranger, orphan, or widow,
or shed innocent blood in this place,
or follow strange gods…
But you trust in deceptive and useless words.
You steal, kill, take the wife of your neighbor;
you swear falsely and follow strange gods…
Dan Berrigan notes that this is not a mere listing of sins:
Each catalogue of crimes ends, in fact, with the name of the greatest of crime: idolatry.
…idolatry permeates every misdeed. There are unjust toward one another, taking base advantage of widows and orphans, even killing the innocent… Such behavior already implies… “worshipping false gods.”
What might Jeremiah say today?
I think that he would list the rejection of the migrant, especially the children, as well as the killing of civilians in Gaza, as well as – to a lesser extent – in Israel. He would look at the lack of compassion toward the poor and rail against this abuse.
But he would also ask us to look at the strange gods that lead us to such actions.
What are these strange gods?
For this we need a national examination of conscience, not just asking what evil we have done but what gods we worship.
I propose we look at a few possible false gods – wealth, power, nationalism, consumerism. All of these, I believe, flow from a lack of trust in a God who calls us to mercy and compassion. It flows from a fear that we might have to lay these gods aside, these gods that promise an easy life – in order to live a good life.
A good life is a life serving the God of compassion, the Father of orphans, widows, and the stranger.
This is not a God who kills strangers, who tells the migrant to go home, who erects walls and borders.
The Lord is a God who finds ways to welcome others – even ourselves – so that we may live as people of mercy.