But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Sometimes hopefulness fails. Sometimes persistence fails. In this verse, all the doom Jeremiah prophesied has come true: Jerusalem is crushed. The nation of Judah no longer exists. As he sits down to write a letter to his old neighbors, now deported to Babylon—neighbors like the teenaged Daniel, who is being trained into assimilation—Jeremiah pens these words. He assures the exiles it is okay to work for the good of the city where they find themselves, even if that city is a hellhole of heathens. It is worth it to make it a better place, even if you’re not convinced the place is redeemable. Stay engaged, Jeremiah writes. Just because hopelessness and displacement and corruption have won the day, we don’t get to tune out and go numb. But, Jeremiah warns, engagement is not the same as assimilation into the oppressor’s culture. Seek the peace of the city where you are: seeking the peace often means nonconforming, improvising, hospitality. “Build houses,” Jeremiah urges them, “plant gardens. Become resilient.” Carve out small, countercultural places for flourishing communities, even if it seems like the most grueling task in the world.
Takeaway: Do one thing to strengthen the community where you find yourself today, whether you are at home or traveling. Is there a city council meeting tonight? Go. Even if you don’t have an agenda. Build a Little Free Library. Visit the Little Free Library down the block. Go to the closest park. Walk there. Take a plastic bag and go picking up trash around the neighborhood. Do something that keeps you engaged in the welfare of those around you.
Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).