And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; they built siegeworks against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city wall; the king with all the soldiers fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king's garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; all his army was scattered, deserting him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon.
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month - which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon - Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the Lord, the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem.
Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon - all the rest of the population. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil.
By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept,
on the poplars that grew there
we hung up our harps. (R.)
For it was there that they asked us,
our captors, for songs,
our oppressors, for joy.
'Sing to us,' they said,
'one of Zion's songs.' (R.)
O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither! (R.)
O let my tongue cleave to my mouth
if I remember you not,
if I prize not Jerusalem
above all my joys! (R./)
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."
Our Scriptures focus on the covenant: its origin, its sign, its promise, its laws and requirements, its warnings and punishments. Yet within the rhythm of life according to the covenant, there is the memory of Jerusalem destroyed by the invading Babylonian forces, and of an outcast leper healed by the word of Jesus. While for most people life normallys follow a regular routine, it can also be interrupted by God in surprising ways.
Laws are kept and laws are broken. When Jesus cured the man of a contagious disease, he told him, "See to it that you tell no one. Go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses prescribed, as the proof they need." We can't help wondering, couldn't the priests get along without the gift from a poor man who because of his leprosy had long been out of work? The gift was very small, but served to show that the outcast leper could return into the full community of Israel. He could come to worship in the temple again, after years of enforced absence. He was restored to self-respect and dignity, and would be very glad to offer his gift.
Laws are sometimes broken for good reason. Tradition prohibited a devout Jew from touching anyone legally unclean; lepers were among the most unclean, and were the untouchables. On hearing the leper's urgent plea, "Sir, if you want to, you can cure me!" Jesus chose to set aside tradition and the law, and in a movement of compassion, stretched out and touched him - and cured him. In that miraculous moment, Jesus became ceremonially unclean and therefore was barred from entering the house of God along with the former leper. But was not a disdainful breaking of the law; Jesus went around or above it, swept by the supreme law of compassion. One must keep laws in the spirit of their origin, which is the merciful goodness of God.
Why did the compassionate God allowed Jerusalem, the holy capital city of his covenanted people, to be destroyed, its temple burnt to the ground, the survivors of the long siege to be deported, with only a remnant left behind? There is a deep mystery here. Jesus, too, who healed the leper, would weep over Jerusalem as he announced its second destruction, this time by the Romans (Luke 19:41). And yet hope continues to spring up, for "Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing" (Ps 126:5). The church, the people of God, will give birth to new life. Such is the covenant law of a compassionate God.