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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Second Great Exile--and Our Own

The reading for Sunday, May 22, 2016:

2 Chronicles 36:  5-21


You might read this text and say, "Haven't we already heard about exile?  What happened?"

You may or may not remember that the ancient land of the ancient Jews was divided into two, Israel and Judah.  These countries were in a very bad location, in terms of geography and warring nations around them, which meant that armies were always crossing the lands of Israel and Judah.  Historians would say that Israel and Judah were the weaker countries in a region of heavily armed, fierce fighting cultures.  Historians would tell us that these smaller, weaker countries were living on borrowed time and that it should have come as no surprise that they were conquered.

In this text, again, we see that the ancient people saw exile differently.  They saw it as punishment for sin, for going away from God's plan.  The exiled people of Judah, like the exiled people of Israel before them saw it as their task to figure out how to get back to God's favor.  They would have centuries to wrestle with this question, as generation after generation was subsumed by whatever empire ruled the world at the time.

We see the ancient people still wrestling with this question in the time of Jesus.  In fact, part of the background of Jesus' ministry and why some people were so resistant to it can be found in this question of how to get back to God's favor.  The oppressor might have been different, Rome instead of Babylon, but the people of Jesus's time were every bit as invested in this thinking as their ancestors of previous generation.

From our perspective thousands of years later, we can argue that exile can be a blessing.  Exile strips people to their core, forcing them to acknowledge what's important and what's not.  Exile can bind a group together even more tightly, as they come together to remember the past and dream about the future.  We see this trajectory in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles of the ancient Israelites.

I realize this idea is small comfort when one has lost one's homeland and everything that matters.  One does not sit in the ashes and say, "From this event will come great art and then a stronger culture."  And yet, it is usually true.

The ancient people may seem very different from us, yet we, too, live in a time of seismic shift.  We see more people being displaced than at any time since World War II.  Our world will be transformed in ways that we can't foresee yet.

In a time of exile, it is good to remember the value of creating community in the place where one has washed up.  It is good to remember that although we may feel abandoned, God is there with us.

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