Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon was the focus of this week’s sermon. The letter is found in Jeremiah 29:4-9. In it the prophet exhorts his people to seek and pray for the peace of the city and asserts that the welfare of the exiles is directly linked to the peace and prosperity of the city where they reside.
The notion that exiles, or the oppressed of any description, should seek to be of benefit to those responsible for their oppression is troublesome on several levels. The prophet Jeremiah skirted the troublesome implications of collaborating with one’s oppressor by first, theologizing his consul to the exiles. The letter open’s with the words “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel says . . .” The counsel of the prophet was the word of God for the people of God in exile.
Second, God’s word to the exiles, though troublesome at first sight, is rather radical. God instructed the exiles to re-form rather than complaining and throwing pity parties; to, in the words of Booker T. Washington, put their buckets down where they were and build from there. This is a powerful notion. Oppressed people, victims of a rapacious and greed-driven spirit, should use resources that are readily available to them to re-build and re-form their communities, cultures, religious rituals and political structures.
Though most Africans in the western hemisphere are not in exile like the Jews to whom Jeremiah wrote, but are rather, the descendants of former slaves, the counsel found in Jeremiah’s letter pertains. It is incumbent on those of us in the African diaspora (diaspora means to displace or scatter) to work cooperatively with one another to build homes and neighborhoods, plant and harvest our own food, and grow our families in every healthy and loving way. It is such self-determining behaviors that glorify God, make the places where we live safe for our families, and solidify secure futures for our children.