Our first scripture is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.
Remember, the prophet Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth to the Israelites in the dark days that preceded the fall of Jerusalem in the year 587 BC. In 587 BC the armies of the Babylonian Empire brought a terrifying end to the last remnant of the once mighty Kingdom of David. The destruction of Jerusalem was a catastrophe that seemed to the Israelites to be akin to the end of the world.
Jeremiah repeatedly warned the Israelites of the coming destruction, and as the political and cultural elites maneuvered with foreign alliances to shore up the crumbling defenses of a beleaguered and decadent Kingdom, Jeremiah called the people to repent. In the hardness of their hearts, the people refused to listen.
Jeremiah was not the only prophet sent to the Israelites. He was one in a long succession of prophets who had been sent by God to call the Israelites to conversion- a long line of prophets whose word had gone unheeded. The word of the Lord to his people is that in their unwillingness to listen to the prophets, they had become the makers of their own misery.
Why wouldn’t the Israelites listen?
It is hard to answer that question.
Why won’t we listen? After all, the words of the prophets are not simply meant to a people from long ago, but for us. The prophets speak as sure and certain to the new Israelites (the Church) as they did to the Israelites of long ago. Are we willing to listen? Are we willing to accept the word of the Lord? Is conversion to Christ, a re-ordering of our life and priorities that would truly qualify us as disciples even on the radar screen of what we think the spiritual life is all about?
Would we rather be ruined than changed? Would we become, in our refusal to listen, the makers of our own misery?
Conversion to Christ is not something grim, but an experience of liberation. Self-destructive behaviors are abandoned in favor of a new way of life. Life in Christ means we become fully alive, freed from an opposition to God that makes us narrow and stifles the life of our souls.
The memory of Jerusalem’s destruction in 587 BC is presented to us not as a sad, historical fact, but as a warning that if we ignore God’s call to conversion, if we defer our decision for Christ for too long, we may miss the opportunity to listen and to change and the loss of that opportunity- to know Christ and to serve him- never ends well for us.
In his Gospel the Lord Jesus is accused of being in league with the devil. Christ the Lord does extraordinary things that defy explanation. Either he is God or he is the devil. His opponents will not admit the former, because if they do, then they have to listen to him and change. Rather than that, they accuse him of being a devil.
Christ uses their accusation as a means of commentary on how in our worldliness we surrender ourselves to the dark powers, we give our lives over to malevolent forces, stronger than ourselves, when we refuse to give our lives over to Christ. In our decisions against Christ, when we prefer self-interest to self-gift, we make ourselves servants of the devil. Our “no” to Christ is always a “yes” to the devil. Yes, it is that stark and uncompromising. Yes, it is that bracing and clear. Either we are with Christ or against him. Either we are gathered to Christ or we are scattered with the devil. There is no middle ground on which to stand between Christ and the devil.
Christ comes as a power stronger than the strength of the evil one. He can wrest us free from our refusals that deliver us into power of the evil one- but is this what we want?
Let us pray that Christ, the strong man, will come to us, break down the defenses that we cast up against him, and wrestle us free from all the dark powers that imprison us in all our refusals to love and to serve.