Balancing optimism with worry is no new discovery uncovered by a coronavirus, it is of the essence of our existence, nor is the inclination of some people to sit on one side of the balance and others firmly on the other.
Today Jeremiah holds out a similar message as we read in Chapter 24 of his prophecy at Morning Prayer of his vision of two baskets of figs:
One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ I said, ‘Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.’
The historical background from Jeremiah’s day is interesting. In the year 597 BC the people of Judah were optimistic about their future. A crisis had been passed and they hoped for a new beginning. What Jeremiah was warning them against was making the same basic mistakes and landing themselves with a worse situation. The detail could fill several blogs, so let’s not go there today, besides I would not want to draw any direct parallels.
The principle remains good, however, that from the state of our response to climate change to the political decisions taken over the current state of everything from vaccine distribution to attitudes towards asylum seekers, women, older people, statues, race issues, religion, centralised authority, police powers, human sexuality, without even starting on Brexit and trade negotiations etc.
The Lord asks Jeremiah to look. He says, “What do you see?” He has done it before, over an almond in early bloom, and a boiling cauldron in chapter 1 and in a potter’s workshop over a spoiled vessel in chapter 18. This is an un-judgemental question, “What do you see?” What he is trying to avoid is an attitude of looking away, either because afterwards when things go wrong, one says, “I told you so!” or the other, “I don’t understand how this has happened.”
The interesting thing in this vision of the good and bad figs is that it is not those largely unaffected by the societal turmoil in 597 BC who are the good figs. The bad figs are all those - optimistic or pessimistic - who are carrying on without doing what the Lord is calling them to do. The good figs are those who have been uprooted and utterly disturbed by what has happened and are being forced to do something about building a new future. Their lives are fully engaged in the midst of the problem, and are honed and sacrificial and tested to the limit. Jeremiah’s message is one that runs through the history of God’s people: a remnant will remain faithful to the ways of the Lord, and society will be rebuilt, renewed and restored by him with these people to create for the future.