“Do You Seek Great Things for Yourself?”
In today’s reading, we find ourselves in Egypt sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Jeremiah warns the people not to escape to Egypt, but they don’t listen to him—and somehow, against his will, Jeremiah ends up in Egypt, too. Jeremiah has been a witness to their unfaithfulness in Judah for decades, and little changes in Egypt. In verse 10, it’s as if Jeremiah says, “We’re singing the same song, second verse! You didn’t learn your lesson in Judah and you were exiled because of your idolatry, and now you’re here, doing the same thing in Egypt.”
But the people still refuse to listen. Imagine Jeremiah’s heartbreak even as he continues to faithfully preach. What’s more, this is Jeremiah’s last recorded message; his ministry seems to end on this note of defeat after preaching tirelessly with apparently only two converts (his scribe, Baruch, and Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch) and years of suffering to show. He’s been taken to Egypt against his will, where he will die (likely as a martyr, killed by the Jews). It’s not the life we would choose for ourselves, is it?
The scene shifts a bit in Jeremiah 45, back to Judah in 605 BC, to hear from Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. Here we get a glimpse into this scribe’s heart as he cries out because of his suffering. He’s had to hear Jeremiah preach these awful judgments, write them down, and proclaim them to the people. Baruch was from a powerful family, but being Jeremiah’s mouthpiece couldn’t have made him popular. Perhaps he was seeking great things for himself. But God’s answer to Baruch silences any notion of self-service. In verse 4, God pulls the curtain and gives us a glimpse into his own heart. “You think this is hard for you, Baruch? Imagine creating these people, loving them, and wanting the best for them, and having them turn their back on you. I am breaking down all that I built. I am plucking up all that I planted.” The Lord says to Baruch, in effect, “This is the hard work I am doing. Are you seeking great things for yourself? Because if you are, this isn’t the right line of work for you.”
This week’s reading tells us that Baruch counted the cost and continued to follow to the very end, even going with Jeremiah to Egypt. But as I read this passage in light of Advent, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ example in regards to seeking great things for ourselves. He didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, put on flesh, and took the form of a servant. He humbled himself—not only to be born as a baby, but to die a death he did not deserve on the cross, that we might be reconciled with God (Philippians 2:6–7). Are you seeking great things for yourself? If you are, you will likely find that following in the ways of the Lord, who humbled himself even to the point of death, may conflict with those plans. But know that, in his time, God lifts up the humble who faithfully follow him wherever he leads.