Are you on the balcony or road?

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WE are accustomed to divide people into two groups, e.g. the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’; the ‘saved’ and the ‘lost’; ‘friends’ or ‘foes’.

The ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah had another division, between those who were on the balcony and those who were on the road.

Jeremiah lived and worked during the twilight of the kingdom of Judah. Mighty enemies were threatening the safety of Jerusalem, but the king and courtiers were blind to the threat.

Because God had miraculously delivered the city decades before, they felt themselves invulnerable. Not so, warned Jeremiah, and for this seemingly unpatriotic attitude, he was intensely hated.

There were times when he wished to escape from the calling and mission with which he had been entrusted. Like Hamlet, he saw the times as ‘out of joint’, and that he was left with the unenviable task to setting it right. It was then that he longed for the balcony. “Oh that I had in the desert a lodging place for travellers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them” Jeremiah 9;2).

Jeremiah was not alone in longing for the balcony, the place of detachment, where he could sit above the ebb and flow of events. David once wished to have the wings of a dove, that he might fly away and be at rest (Psalm 55;6).

At times all of us feel like saying “Stop the world, I want to get off” But it is a tragedy when such a wish becomes a settled condition. There are folk who do not want to be involved, but feel perfectly free to observe and criticise; they are, like Cassius, great observers; but not participants.

The flight from reality is the coward’s way, and it can never truly succeed, because no one can flee from themselves.

Jeremiah’s balcony wish was a momentary blip. He held fast to his mission and his tenacity won him an honoured place in the national pantheon.

When Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him, they reported that some were comparing Jesus to Jeremiah (Matthew 16;14).

Jeremiah determined to stay on the road of duty. He was the man ‘in the arena’ and encouraged his compatriots, “Take note of the highway, the road that you take” (Jeremiah 31;21).

Abraham Lincoln once said: “There is no ground between right and wrong except battleground”; and in so saying was arguing that no one should be sitting on the balcony, a passive observer of life’s struggles.

During one of the periodic revolutions that beset France in the nineteenth century, a young man sent a letter to a friend, containing these sentiments, “A terrible game is being played here. Our lives are constantly in danger. Come and add yours”. Get off the balcony and get on the road!

And the appeal is also a summons to faith. Christ’s call to his disciples was “Follow me’” and we read that they left all and followed him.(Luke 5;11). When he calls us to follow, it will not do to sit idle and complacent on the balcony; we must take to the road in discipleship.