30 July 2012

Even the smallest seed. . .

17th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Poor Jeremiah! Because the people of Judah are a “wicked people who refuse to obey [God's] words,” poor Jeremiah is ordered by God to buy a loincloth, travel to Parath, bury the garment under a rock, and then travel back to Parath to fetch the loincloth, which, by this time, is rotted, and good for nothing! All this to make a point: God's people have become an adulterous mob, a people “who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, and follow strange gods to serve and adore them. . .” Poor Jeremiah! He is given the task of going to God's people and telling them what they already know—that they are no longer an obedient nation; they are no longer thriving with the grace of their God. They are rotten and good for nothing. In their disobedience—their refusal to listen to the Word of God—they have grown stubborn and idolatrous. How will they be punished for their disobedience? God will simply allow their preferred condition to follow its natural course. Their pride, their integrity as a nation will be allowed to rot. The Lord will not rescue a people who refuse to be rescued. He will not cut away the rot from an uncooperative patient. However, even the smallest seed of faith can leaven a nation. 

What have the covenanted nations of Judah and Israel lost in their disobedience? God says to Jeremiah, “. . .as close as the loincloth clings to a man's loins, so had I made [them] cling to me; to be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty.” And now they wallow in stubbornness and the worship of alien gods. How does the rot begin? It begins in disobedience—the failure, the refusal to listen to God's Word. At the root of this failure is yet another failure: to trust that God pours out His goodness and truth for the long-term benefit of the nation. We could call this “spiritual short-sightedness,” but it could just as easily be called “self-destructive pride.” It's the moment that we as individuals, as a nation, or a Church decide that God's promises, His Word to us, is no longer sufficient for our daily thriving, no longer necessary for our struggle to become perfectly human. It's the moment we decide to give our allegiance, our worship to a more pliable god, a less demanding god. When we choose to walk in the stubbornness of our hearts by giving thanks and praise to this permissive deity, the rot begins. But to rot we must first be dead. 

What kills us as a nation, as a people? If disobedience, stubbornness, and idolatry are the rot that comes after death, what kills us? The loincloth is the sign of Judah's covenant with God, the sign of His people's faith in Him. God tells Jeremiah not to wash it, then to bury it, to put it out of sight. Under the rock, the filthy linen rots. When we fail to keep the faith clean, when we fail to keep our trust in God pure, and then bury the evidence of our faithlessness, we die. And the rot begins. Our faith in God is not a spectacle to be observed, a theatrical display. Neither is our trust in God a shameful habit to be buried under polite indifference or hidden away as an embarrassing cultural leftover for ages past. Only a living seed can grow into a thriving plant; only living yeast can leaven flour into bread. Our faith, our love, and our hope must be living, breathing habits of the heart and mind put into action, taken into the world so that God's glory in our lives might draw in all those we seek His mercy. There are more pliable gods—science, politics, business—but none of these will say to us, “Come! Be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty!” None of these can save us from ourselves. And all of them would watch us rot. 

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1 comment:

  1. If we ever find ourselves together in a dark alley ... I sure hope you'll be on my side!

    "But to rot we must first be dead." Now that made me think - so glad you answered my question (what makes us "dead") in your final paragraph, even though I had sort of already gone there myself.

    I think you should take that final paragraph out on the road. The Prophet Philip??? Hmmmm.... ;-)