“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)
The “common good” – a nice idea but not always easy to pursue. Finding the kinds of commitments to the well-being of everyone that actually translate into actions can be hard. What is best for one person may not be best for someone else. So weighing the costs and benefits and finding something that elevates the good of the whole society or group can be hard. We only need to look at Congress right now to see that finding people willing to pursue what seem like obvious solutions that could make things better simply not happen for what look like selfish reasons.
In contrast to what happens when we don’t pursue the common good, God’s words to Jeremiah in the verse above urge people to not take personal biases into account when we work on things. When the people around us flourish and do well, things are better for us too. We may not all reap the same rewards of a decision but when things go better – we all benefit. The old saying, “A rising tide raises all boats,” is something that isn’t a biblical quote but it certainly resonates with God’s advice in this passage.
This advice from God comes in a surprising place. The people of Israel are in exile and living in a foreign land – kept there by their enemies. It would be easy to want to sabotage things and get even with their oppressors. But God, the same God who went to the cross in Jesus, advises not to get even but to work for the good of the place where they are held captive. The reason: God, who calls us to love our enemies in Christ, knows that when we resort to retaliation everything degenerates. Life gets worse and everyone loses. But if we work for the welfare of the city where they are in exile, life will be better and the Jewish people will benefit as well. Everyone wins.
One of the reasons that Zion has such a strong commitment to working in the community is the reality that the God we meet in Jesus is committed to everyone’s well being. This wasn’t new in Christ. We see it way back in the Old Testament and it is core to who God is and always has been. Our hosting of the Southwest Area Neighbors (SWAN), AA Groups, and community events demonstrates this. Our support of PADS homeless shelter, Food for Greater Elgin, Fair Trade and many other things pushes us out into the world to be proactive about improving the quality of life for others.
“Seek the welfare of the city…” It is God’s desire that we do so. It is also one of the marks of our congregation’s ministry and an important part of what we do to join God at work in the world.