"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel... 'Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.'" - Jeremiah 29:7
This recommendation is found in a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sends across the Fertile Crescent to the former inhabitants of Jerusalem, now in forced exile in Babylon. Can you see their faces as it is read to them on a Sabbath day as they sit on the riverbank praying to their God?
What? They are to seek the well-being of this enemy city? They are to pray for it and for those within it? Does God really mean that?
Since this occurs shortly after the year 587 BC, we are far from the New Testament lesson of "Love your enemy." The exiles might be asking: doesn't God remember that these people are the ones who have destroyed God's very temple in Jerusalem? Yes, God remembers, but he is directing them to look at their lives through a new lens.
If they are to live and survive here, then they must tie their welfare to that of Babylon. Otherwise, there will never be a homecoming since both Israel and Babylon will perish together. This is an early example of the true politics of working to improve where one is so that someday life might spring even from an undesirable place.
In our world of partisan politics, we often do not pray broadly enough for the well-being of our cities. If the wrong party is in power, we might even pray against them. Why? They are the "enemy". We might want to rethink that strategy in the light of Jeremiah's urgings.
God goes on to say through the prophet: "For surely I know the plans I have for you…" God knows. We don't. While we wait for the future, let us consider, in prayer, the welfare of the city, the state, the country where we live.
Shall we pray?