Like most Americans who aren’t comatose or living in a hermitage, I’ve noticed a lot of political chatter lately—on the television, in the newspapers, and in electronic media like facebook. I’m not really eager to join that furor that seems to demand everyone’s attention all the time, but today’s lesson from Jeremiah (23:1-8) is a clear example of how the bible and politics are supposed to mix.
In one of his most famous passages, Jeremiah cries out, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.” These are cutting words that are designed to sting the egos of those in power and rally the proletariat in criticism of their leaders. Unlike the modern American state, God had appointed—through the human institutions of heredity and nepotism—the leaders of Israel to watch over his people. Perhaps, one might extrapolate to our system of government and identify a “God-appointed” responsibility in our public leaders, but I think that’s pushing the image a bit too far.
Yet the message for those in power over us is the same as it was for those who were rulers over Israel nearly three-thousand years ago: When you forget to take care of the people for whom you are responsible, someone else will come along to do it. Unfortunately, the “righteous branch” whom God envisions leading his people may never find himself or herself in charge of the American people. Nevertheless, we should be looking for someone who “shall…deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Sound like anyone in government?
The funny thing that this passage reminds me is that wisdom, justice, righteousness are not exclusive to the religious sphere. We don’t need a “Christian” leader in order to have someone promote the same ideals identified in this passage. Wisdom, justice, and righteousness are about taking care of God’s people (in the broadest sense). Most of the time, I trust that those in positions of public trust genuinely have the people’s interest in mind when they make decisions. I might not agree with their logic or prioritization of needs, but they’re usually pretty good at what they do. Why, then, are we still at odds? Aren’t wisdom, justice, and righteousness things we can all agree on?