Audacious Trust: A Reflection on Jeremiah 32.1-3, 6-15

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these regular reflections on the Sunday readings. I had to smile when I was preparing for today’s post, since the process felt so familiar. Looking at the world around me, it’s hard not to think “Wow, things are really hard and all signs point to them getting harder.” And then, I find in the Scriptures of the day a message of hope for difficult times. There’s a lesson there in and of itself: Our Scriptures were made for hard times, written to offer hope in the midst of hopeless situations. Today’s reading from the Prophet Jeremiah is a great example of this.

Here’s the situation: the Babylonian army has occupied much of Judah and is besieging Jerusalem. To say things are dire is an understatement. (Jerusalem will in fact fall the next year and much of its population sent into Exile.) The prophet Jeremiah finds himself deeply unpopular for speaking out against the injustices of the ruling classes and demanding repentance in a time of national emergency. In this circumstance, he receives a message from God telling him that a cousin is going to offer him the chance to buy some property, and that he should take him up on it. It’s a ridiculous situation, drawing up contracts and counting out money, all to purchase land currently occupied by enemy soldiers — a far stronger enemy, with a standing policy of removing peoples from their lands and resettling foreigners in their place. This is by all appearances the worst possible investment and a very poor use of time and energy. It all smacks, not juts of ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,’ but offering to buy the ship as it’s going down.

But, of course, Jeremiah is a prophet and that means this act is symbolic. He gathers up all the paperwork and in a public display, pronounces:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32.14-15)

This isn’t exactly a feel-good story. Jeremiah’s prophecy does not speak of an immediate deliverance. In fact, even ignoring the seventy-year Exile, the story in today’s text is told as an explanation for Jeremiah’s imprisonment on a trumped up charge of sedition!

No, this is not a story of immediate deliverance, but about the long game, about trusting that no matter how dire things are now — and even if they get worse — God is not finished with Judah. Even if the promises need to be buried in a sealed jar for the distant future, life for God’s people in their land will go on.

There’s likely another level to the symbolism of this story. The reason why Jeremiah’s cousin offers him the land is the ‘Right of Redemption’, one of the many protections in the Law of Moses to prevent families from being dispossessed and impoverished. If someone needed to sell their land, their family members were to be given the opportunity to buy it before it could be sold to outside parties. Thus the idea of ‘redemption’ — of buying back and protection from permanent loss — lies behind the whole story. It’s as though God is also reminding Jeremiah and the residents of Jerusalem that, through the covenant, God has ‘Right of Redemption’ over them; they will not be lost to their land — or to God — forever.

This stands forever as a reminder to us as well. There will be times of trouble ahead for all of us, both personal and collective. Trouble comes for us all. But, despite all the ways we humans consistently break faith with one another and with God, God remains faithful, always. That was the message of this prophecy for the people of Jerusalem, and it’s its message for us today. God is faithful.

And thank God for that!

One thought on “Audacious Trust: A Reflection on Jeremiah 32.1-3, 6-15

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