Gardening In Exile
What are you waiting for?
This question strikes home for me. Over the last few years I came to the realization that I was unconsciously living my life in expectation for something to happen. I lived with an inarticulate assumption that, someday in the near future, my life would change. Somehow, I would be living to my fullest potential, I would more faithful in my relationship with God and I would be doing that which God had created me for (but had thus far not fully figured out). It was all just around the corner and I was waiting for it to happen. I thought I was alone in this assumptive state, but when I started talking about it I discovered that a lot of other people live with this same expectation. Do you?
In Mark 5, right off the heels of Jesus demonstrating His authority over nature itself, He and His disciples reach the far shore. Here is what happened:
“When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”
It is immediately interesting to me that the text says that Jesus got out of the boat. While we can’t be sure, it seems to be saying that only Jesus got out of the boat. I guess it is understandable. After all, this man in this context represented the most unclean of the unclean to devout Jews. This was not their land, not their people, not their concern. However, I suspect it was the threat to their safety that most kept the men in the boat. I suspect I would have responded much the same way. Yet Jesus gets out of the boat and brings His Kingdom with Him.
I could not help but think of the prophet Jeremiah, that rather moody and dramatic Old Testament figure who warned the people of Israel about the consequences of their unfaithfulness. His warnings proved true, with the people being taken into captivity in Babylon, a pagan nation far from the Promised Land that was given to them in covenant with God. I can only imagine what they might have felt: fear, confusion, anger, vengeance, despair. After all, that very covenant with God promised them that they would be a great people, through whom all nations would be blessed. As long as they were slaves of these godless people in this godless land, those promises would remain empty and unfulfilled.
And yet Jeremiah brought them the word of God:
“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.”
The stunning impact of these commands should not be lost on us. God called them to live out the covenant promises faithfully in the midst of Babylon. More than that, God’s blessing of them would be linked to the blessing of their captors. How easily might they have quoted the promises of cursing their enemies in the covenant. Rather, God was reminding them of two things: first, that their captivity was result of their own unfaithfulness, not to be minimized in the hatred of their enemies; and second, that God’s blessing of all nations through His people was far more central to His ultimate intention. (Notice the parallel Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where He powerful subverted the expectations of the people for a militantly liberating messiah.)
As individuals and faith communities, we all too easily fall into the same assumptions. We live as though God’s will for our life might happen in the future, when things are better. Once we get this or that set of circumstances worked out. Once we are out of debt or have a better job or find that significant other. Once all the ducks land in a row, then we will passionately live our lives for God to the fullest. This is not to say we are completely complacent now (at least not all of us), but rather we find ways to accept mediocrity. This acceptance is further encouraged as we look around and see others living with the same level of expectation.
Yet Jesus calls to live the Kingdom of God now, even in the midst of our circumstances. After all, if He calls His people to thrive and prosper while they are slaves of pagan oppressors, I think our excuses fall quite short. As I recently heard the following quote (from a VERY unlikely source):
“We live as though the world were as it should be to show it what it can be”
So the questions remain:
What are you waiting for? What are we waiting for?
When we confront the struggles & weaknesses in our lives & communities, what are we waiting for?
When we consider the future and all that is possible, what are we waiting for?
When we imagine what God will do through in and through us, what are we waiting for?
“Choose this day whom you will serve” -Joshua 24:15