Jeremiah contains a lot of passages intended to teach Israel how to live in exile. Not only in a way that demonstrates their righteousness and faithfulness, but in a way that is a blessing to Babylon, too. And it would only be human nature if Israel thought maybe this was her chance to turn the tables a bit.
Babylon had always been Israel's monster. Babylon was strong, powerful, and ruthless, and Israel knew that this enemy nation was marching forward, taking prisoners, and conquering lands. She knew it was only a matter of time before this army was on her doorstep, and for a few generations, she lived in great fear. Knowing the heavy shoe that was about to drop. (The prophecies promising exactly that didn't help much in the fear department.)
And now, here she was, living as exiles in a foreign land, having finally been conquered and taken by Babylon. God's wisdom continues to talk to them about living honorably even in this foreign place, about living faithfully, about praying for Babylon, about how to prosper there, and Israel's probably thinking that if she can really just do all of this, Babylon will see what a great people she is and will feel indebted to her. They can take back the place of power by being good people. They can turn Babylon's wrath away from the people of God. They can somehow set things right by convincing Babylon how wrong it was and by driving them, through the faithfulness of Israel, to repentance.
And then we come to the end of Jeremiah, and we see that that's just not the case. Jeremiah 51 relays the truth, that God's people tried to heal Babylon, but they couldn't.
Some of you need to hear this truth right now. Yes, I'm talking to you.
Because we are a people with eyes on our enemies, and we often think that the key to our own lives is somehow healing those who have hurt us. It's better for us if they have peace, if they prosper, if we pray for them. We want to fix others who are broken because it seems like we ought to be able to, and it seems a whole lot easier than just taking responsibility for ourselves.
So we try to reconcile someone else's broken marriage. We try to eliminate someone else's financial burden. We try to eradicate someone else's unhealthy addiction to alcohol or drugs. We pour ourselves into healing our enemies because hey, maybe we can turn these tables. Maybe we can make them indebted to us. Thankful for us. Pleased by us. And if they're thankful for us, maybe they won't be our bogeyman any more.
Maybe...if they're not broken, we won't have to be, either.
But the truth is this, and this is the truth that all need to be reminded of: try as we may, we cannot heal anyone else. We can't. God's people lived in exile for decades and couldn't do it. Too many of us spend most of our life trying, and we will fail.
The good news, however, is that that's not what God was after. God didn't judge His people and their exile by whether or not they were able to heal Babylon. He judged them by whether or not they lived faithfully in the place that He had put them. That's it. He didn't hold them accountable for "fixing" their enemy or even for turning the tables; He held them accountable for living righteous, faithful lives in a hard place. That's it.
And we can do that. Can't we?
We must. Because the book of Jeremiah makes clear that that is what God's asking of us. That's all He's asking of us. Live the faithful life, wherever you are. Even if it's not where you want to be. Even if you're under your enemy's thumb. Even in hard places and troubled times. Live the faithful life. Live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God, and love one another. That's what God's looking for.
(*Okay, so that last bit came from Micah and then from Jesus, but it encompasses so much of what Jeremiah also had to say to God's people. It just seemed to work. So I went with it.)