In the year A.D. 403 a 16-year-old Christian boy from Wales was abducted by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved for five years. Eventually he escaped from this exile and joined a monastery in southern France. There he changed his name to Patrick and intended to live out his life as a monk.
But at the age of 45, God called Patrick to return to Ireland and carry the gospel to his former oppressors. Patrick went and invested the remainder of his life in serving the Irish. During the next 31 years he baptized more than 120,000 people as Christians.
In Ireland they still say of Patrick that “he found Ireland all heathen and he left it all Christian.” The church made him a saint.
While he was in his Irish exile, St. Patrick prayed for his enemies. He prayed for the prosperity of the land where he was trapped. In that exile, St. Patrick evangelized a nation. In his exile, he GOT TO WORK.
Our passage today is a letter to the Hebrew exiles in Babylon written by the prophet Jeremiah, who remained in Jerusalem. They must have been excited to receive a letter from home in their strange and foreign land! I imagine they were hoping to catch up on all the news and maybe receive a word of encouragement about God’s imminent deliverance.
Instead, they got a to-do list.
Jeremiah 29 (New International Version)
This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. It said:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
Wait, come again? We’re stuck here waiting for rescue and you want us to settle down? Build houses? Marry off our children??
To the estranged and hopeless diaspora, this letter must have come as quite a shock. Then it gets worse.
7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
So in the midst of their despair, Jeremiah instructs them to pray for their oppressor. To pray for their unwanted city. To pray for the people who are holding them captive. And in thus praying, they would also seek peace.
This abrupt message to the exiles is a good lesson for us today. The pandemic has come with an exile of its own. We can’t live life as we normally do. We are estranged from our extended families, we can’t travel, we are stuck in our homes, and we’re about ready to run out of Netflix. What to do?
Seek peace in places that you aren’t expecting to find it.
GET TO WORK.
At the appointed time, the exiles were returned to the comfort of their homes. At the appointed time, we too will be delivered from our pandemic exile. In the meantime, get to work on evangelizing like Patrick, planning like Jeremiah, and loving like Jesus.
We are one day closer to the end of this thing. Thanks be to God!