In today's Lent reflection, Gustavo Gutierrez reflects on how even in the midst of difficult times, there is always hope.
Many of us are tempted to provide easy answers to complex questions in life. Working in a ministry like Habitat for Humanity, however, reminds us of the implications of our prophetic role. Like Jeremiah, we find that making profound connections with people leads us to astonishing admissions of personal grief, anguish and fury.
Wouldn’t it be nice if simply desiring that everyone had decent shelter was the easy answer for responding to that pressing need? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to deliver housing solutions to people without generating a deep empathy for and commitment to them? I love passages like Jeremiah 31 (and the entire section — Jeremiah 30–33 — known as “The Book of Consolation”).
However, I am constantly reminded that the proclamation of hope in Jeremiah 31:17 and God’s grace in verses 31-34 are not easy answers. Rather, they are costly ones that come from difficult times in life! The historical context of today’s reading was a tragic time in both Israel’s history and the prophet Jeremiah’s own life. On one hand, the end of Judah was near. With all her allies reduced to vassals or weakened by internal strife, Judah was left virtually alone to face the new world empire, Babylon. The Babylonians had come in 598 B.C. and would come again in 586 to destroy the country and the city. Jeremiah 31 is set between these two Babylonian invasions. Historically, Judah’s time was short.
It was also a tough time for the prophet, as he felt God had deceived him (Jeremiah 20:7). Isn’t it true that it is easier to share and proclaim hope when you are OK, but much harder when you feel that many things in your life have spun out of control and you are experiencing an emotional or spiritual crisis?
“There is hope for your future, says the LORD …” (Jeremiah 31:17, RSV). Was this a new covenant, a new beginning? This might sound like an easy answer to a very complex situation, but when this oracle comes from someone like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, it is good to pay close attention! Hope, in this context, is a principle of revolutionary openness to the future where Jeremiah finds not only consolation in difficult times, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering.
We can never succumb to the easy answer of hopelessness. Such despair can take on two forms: presumption, as a premature, self-willed anticipation of the fulfillment of what we hope for from God, and despair, as the premature, arbitrary anticipation of the nonfulfillment of what we hope for from God. Like Jeremiah, we proclaim, even in the midst of difficult times, hope for new beginnings!
PrayerO Lord, deliver us from those temptations involved in taking the easy way out, a form of spiritual laziness and complicity, in accomplishing Habitat’s ministry. Grant us the courage to go beyond our own limitations and doubts, our own deceptions, so we can be Your instruments of building hope in the midst of difficult times!
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