Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 25th, 2016.
At first glance, this scene in Jeremiah seems ridiculous. Jeremiah is buying plots in his hometown of Anathoth in the middle of a Babylonian siege that will ultimately lead to the exile of King Zedekiah and the Israelite people. Remember, Jeremiah is in prison and has been labeled a traitor to his people because he told everyone to lay down arms and surrender in the middle of the siege. According to the law of the land, traitorous behavior like this warrants a prison cell.
Looking deeper into the story, this ridiculous moment unfolds a larger vision for God’s people. Yes, they will be conquered and exiled, driven away from their geographical identity as the Israelite nation. The old covenant will no longer exist. However, Jeremiah is proclaiming a new covenant to come, a time when the Israelite nation will become stronger in their faith and identity as God’s people. They will soon worship God outside of their institutional walls for the temple will be destroyed, but they will learn to worship their God no matter where they are living. The reshaping of identity is beginning in the fiery blaze of the conquering Babylonian army. The end of one nation is leading to a new beginning of a new nation that will emerge from the fire.
Endings are difficult especially for a group of people whose identity has been rooted down for decades and even centuries. Reshaping and reforming has never been a comfortable experience for people of faith. The Church experiences several seasons of renewal and reform throughout two thousand years. Each time she is called to change, pain and turmoil are at the root of reform.
Jeremiah is reminding God’s people that change is coming, but God will not abandon them in this painful season. It takes courage to act in faith today unsure of what tomorrow brings. What gives Jeremiah courage is knowing that God is creatively working and sustaining God’s people even in the transition from endings to beginning, in the midst of death and life.
Land at this time is considered life and death. Agrarian societies and legal systems protected land for generations of families. According to a provision in Leviticus law, land was only allowed to be bought and sold within the family unless the family was in desperate need of the money to survive. As seen in Jeremiah’s transactions all the fine print and paper filing is under the law requirements of the old covenant. The purchase of land occurs within the confines of the old covenant, but the living off the land for future generations will be fulfilled in the new covenant to come.
This text in Jeremiah acknowledges a God who values space and continues to create space. Space is important to us today. We buy homes, we rent apartments, we build church buildings. We make the best decisions based on the information we have today knowing that tomorrow is full of unknowns. Buying and building are acts of faith in the middle of so many variables like the economy that is always going up and down. Churches make decisions together for the future generations to come. These involved transactions require faith in a God who is always thinking ahead while being present with us today.
Jeremiah buys a field which feels like a simple act, but this particular field is located in the middle of Jerusalem. This story in context with the whole of Jeremiah’s ministry does not seem too far fetch. Jeremiah has proclaimed from the very beginning a prophetic word from a God who empowers the Israelite people “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:10). Here is another moment when Jeremiah holds the paradoxical truth of God’s mission in the world. The end is only another beginning, death will lead to resurrection. God is using an everyday human transaction to bring forth a divine prophecy of new life to come.
God values human agency as a part of God’s mission in the world. God is a strategic business planner who has a vision for the people and their livelihood down the road. God has used similar real-estate transactions throughout scripture such as with the father of Israel, Abraham (Gen 23) and with Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4) to bring forth change in the future for the people of God.
In this story from Jeremiah, the real-estate market is plummeting, and God decides to double down and purchase prime property in the middle of the stock market crashing. This is a public transaction with the intention of sending waves of hope throughout the land where fear is consuming everyone. Jeremiah encourages the people that one day their families will return and live on this land once again. God is always doing the business of redemptive work through prophetic actions in the world. Jeremiah is calling God’s people to live courageously with business savvy.
Buechel Park Baptist Church, Louisville, KY
Tags: courage, faith, business, money, life, death