The prophet Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in the dark days that preceded the fall of the city of Jerusalem in the year 587 BC.
Remember, it was in the year 587 BC that the armies of the Babylonian empire overcame the defenses of the Kingdom of Judah, the last remnant of what was once the mighty Kingdom of David, and placed the city of Jerusalem under siege, then sacked the city, tearing down its walls, desecrating and destroying the holy temple, killing the royal family, and enslaving the city’s inhabitants.
Jeremiah warned that his spiritual vision had revealed to him that a great cataclysm was about to engulf the Israelites, but the people would not listen. Jeremiah would watch helplessly as the beloved children of Israel were delivered into the hands of their enemies.
The word “jeremiad” originates in the people’s experience listening to and reading the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. A “jeremiad” is a dire warning, a threat of impending doom- and there is plenty of that in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Indeed, there is plenty of warning in all the Biblical prophets. The prophets are charged with the mission of telling us not what we want to hear, but the truth that is meant to provoke us to change. Many of the decisions of human beings indicates that we would rather be ruined than changed. God resists this and sends his prophets to remind us that his will is not that any of us be ruined, but that he would rather that we be changed.
Jeremiah laments this morning that humanity foolishly prefers to trust in its worldly inclinations rather than trust in God. We hedge our bets that our political ideologies, economic theories, our technological advances can save us in a way that God cannot. These things are like the defenses of the Kingdom of Judah or the walls of Jerusalem. Perhaps they can protect us for a while, but inevitably, they will fail. This is not something that we might like to hear, but neither did the Israelites want to listen to Jeremiah.
It is likely that none of us will have to endure the dark days faced by the Israelites in the year 587 BC, but we all will one day face an end, and in that end, it is not our politics, our money, our university degrees, or any worldly thing that will matter. These will fall away from us like the walls of Jerusalem fell. In that moment, in the absence of all our defenses, we will meet the Lord face to face. He will be disinterested in all our worldly accomplishments- so what will then matter?
The Lord Jesus tells us what will matter in his great parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man spent his life insulated from the consequences of his indifference to the needs of others. His wealth gave him access to power and pleasure, no doubt when he died, he was eulogized as a great success in the manner that the worldly minded celebrate the attainments of wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
But all that fell away and could not, in an ultimate sense, save him. The rich man trusted in false gods and in the end those false gods delivered him into an abyss of consequences for his sins. False gods cannot save us.
What the rich man had missed was the demand of love that awaited him in the immediacy of his life, a demand of love that literally awaited him at the door of his own house. Lazarus desired so little, mere scraps, but the rich man could not even spare this. It was his failure before the demand of love that damned the rich man.
And this is Christ the Lord’s warning to us.
Who, right now, is Lazarus at your door? What will be expected of each of us today in terms of the demand of love?
St. John of the Cross once remarked that in the end, our lives will be examined, that is measured and judged by love. He means nothing sentimental in this observation. What we have done, what we have failed to do, our refusals of and indifference to the demand of love will one day be measured back to us.
In the end, it will be our fulfillment of the demand of love that endures and matters most. Everything else passes away. In the end, we are saved by love.