But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
We often hear politicians say things to us about how we are doing and that should help us decide who to vote for. “Vote for me and you will have more money.” Or, “vote for me and I will keep you safe from… (Whoever they want you to be afraid of).” It is as if the primary concern in our world should be me. Do what is best for me. I matter most. There is a strong libertarian streak in much of our country that says that we should all do what we want and everyone should simply fend for themselves.
When Jeremiah received the above message from God, the people of Israel were in Babylon during the exile. It was tempting to try to figure out how to do what was good for the Israelites and bad for the Babylonians. After all, their captors had removed them from their homes and transplanted them in a country where they did not want to be. A little sabotage seemed to be a tempting thing. As long as we are stuck here, we might as well undermine life for the locals while we are here.
But God will have none of that. God speaks clearly to the people. If you don’t make the community where you live a better place, then you will be living in a worse place. The welfare of your neighbor impacts your life. Your concern for them also brings life to you. Being selfish or counterproductive not only hurts your neighbors, it brings destruction to you as well.
People often ask why they should be concerned for others. They often blame people who are struggling for their struggles. Sometimes there is some blame that is legitimate. Sometimes people are just victims of hard times or an unjust system. Either way, if you have a nice home and your neighbor’s house is falling down, then your nice home is worth less, too. When life for everyone improves, everyone’s life gets better.
God is very clear, being a good neighbor makes the world a better place for all of us. The temptation to be selfish or simply not care how others are doing is not just unchristian, it is also foolish.
God could easily have said, I gave humanity enough to do OK. Now they are on their own. But God could not. Love is never disinterested. And so God comes to us in Jesus to bring us life. God’s hope? That we will take the gift we receive and be sure to pass it on.