There can be no coherent concept of home, it would appear, apart from borders and boundaries that at once enclose and exclude. This suggests that those without a home … somehow exist beyond the insider–outsider binary that the rhetoric of “home” delineates.
While the Judahites were the recipients of physical violence, they only had the power to return rhetorical, fantasized violence. They were forced to entrust actual retribution to other powers: to God, and perhaps to the Persians (envisioned as God’s agents).
Jeremiah’s letter is a bold admonishment to remember that we are all, together, members of the political community. Wherever we find ourselves, we must not forget that there is such a thing as the common good.
What political theologies are embedded in and shape Zionist and Palestinian refugee mappings of space and place? This is the animating question of my new book, Mapping Exile and Return, which stems from my doctoral studies in theology at the University of Chicago and 11 years of work in the Middle East.
Fom the vantage point of those who would come after them, the Deuteronomist’s community realizes that, though there may appear to be a wide array of choices for the community to make about the direction it will take, in reality, there are still only two, and one is still unthinkable.
In light of the two kingdoms doctrine and the separation of church and state, understanding the appropriate form of Christian prayer for and engagement with the political realities of our societies can be complex. In Jeremiah’s message to an exiled people, we find a pattern for prayer in a pluralistic context, a calling that identifies our primary task to be one of seeking the common good and welfare of our communities, rather than one of submission or conversion.
Jeremiah 31:27-34 confirms for us that God is present through the thick and thin of pain and suffering and in the disturbing questions that these experiences raise. But a day will come when God out of God’s grace and mercy will provide the community with all that is needed to overcome this pain and build life anew.
The policy of accommodation, cooperative political activities and praying to God for the well-being of a foreign city as suggested by Jeremiah was both innovative and a great challenge to the exilic community. It also has lessons for us as we seek a public, politically and socially relevant theology.