Seeking the Righteous

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Jeremiah 5:1-9

1 Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
   look around and take note!
Search its squares and see
   if you can find one person
who acts justly
   and seeks truth —
so that I may pardon Jerusalem.
2 Although they say, “As the Lord lives,”
   yet they swear falsely.
3 O Lord, do your eyes not look for truth?
You have struck them,
   but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
   but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
   they have refused to turn back.
4 Then I said, “These are only the poor,
   they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the Lord,
   the law of their God.
5 Let me go to the rich
   and speak to them;
surely they know the way of the Lord,
   the law of their God.”
But they all alike had broken the yoke,
   they had burst the bonds.
6 Therefore a lion from the forest shall kill them,
   a wolf from the desert shall destroy them.
A leopard is watching against their cities;
   everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces —
because their transgressions are many,
   their apostasies are great.
7 How can I pardon you?
   Your children have forsaken me,
   and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
   they committed adultery
   and trooped to the houses of prostitutes.
8 They were well-fed lusty stallions,
   each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
9 Shall I not punish them for these things?
says the Lord;
   and shall I not bring retribution
   on a nation such as this? 


Reminiscent of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who reportedly carried a lamp through Athens in the daytime, searching for an honest man, God, speaking through Jeremiah, is on a desperate search for at least one righteous man in Jerusalem. He is willing to spare the city (similar to the promise he had made about Sodom) if there is one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth.

But it’s not looking good. While Jeremiah could find many “religious” people in Jerusalem, they gave only lip service to God and did not seek the Lord in sincerity. Jeremiah appeals to God, who sees; God who cares not first about a person’s access to doctrinal or abstract truth, but about the basic orientation of a person’s heart. Jeremiah cites poverty, foolishness, and ignorance of God’s judgment as possible reasons for the lack of repentance. But even Jerusalem’s aristocrats (“great men”), with all their ease of manners and access to religious education, are a disappointment, for they, too, have “broken the bonds” with God.

Whether they are to be understood literally or figuratively, the prophet uses the lion, wolf, and leopard to liken God’s coming wrath and judgment against Judah to an attack by wild animals. God has done so much for Judah, only to be repaid with ingratitude and the “spiritual adultery” of going after pagan gods, rather than ensuring that the next generation has learned the true faith.
Jeremiah found no righteous men of truth. Instead he found spiritual renegades, adulterers, and a nation primed for judgment.

However, the revelation of Christ is the arrival of the long sought-for righteous man. He will deal honestly with all people. He will not need to seek the truth, because he will be the truth. When the perfect comes, our search will be over.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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