Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15Â – The 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time â€“ for September 29, 2013
â€œBuy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yoursâ€¦â€ (Jeremiah 32:7)
2,600 years ago, give or take a century, the power-hungry and land-greedy Babylonians attacked the Israelites. Jerusalem was besieged. The expansion of an empire would again wreck havoc with the â€œchosen people.â€ And did they wonder . . . chosen for what? Misery? Calamity? Insecurity? Being a doormat for the newest despot scheming to conquer more people and claim more property?
In Jeremiahâ€™s time, the folks on the streets of Jerusalem might mumble about the greatness of the past. Remember King David! How ’bout that Exodus . . . that Moses sure was a humdinger! Or they might look at the present, and in the fine universal tradition of the ostrich, stick their heads in the sand of the â€œPromised Landâ€ and think this present moment isnâ€™t so bad. Maybe the Babylonians will get bored and brandish their weaponry elsewhere. Maybe God will smite the damn foreigners. Or maybe the fine citizens of Jerusalem will get used to being under siege and, as long as thereâ€™s bread to eat, water to drink and the trains run on time, today wonâ€™t be that bad.
Relive the past.
Rationalize the present.
How could any imagine a future . . . a future with hope, and without heartache, a future with dreams, and without dread? And so it would beâ€”according to scriptureâ€”that Hanamel son of Jeremiahâ€™s uncle Shallum would approach Jeremiah, currently held captive in the palace of the King of Judah, and the prophet would boldly buy . . .
Stop. Wait! I refuse to quickly reveal Jeremiahâ€™s symbolic and optimistic gesture (which you could read for yourself, anyway).
How easy as a believer, as a writer or preacher or teacher, to dash through a passage like Jeremiahâ€™s thirty-second chapter. In a smattering of words, the reader will get to the good stuff, to the place where in the darkest daysâ€”in the worst of timesâ€”everything will work out in the future. It will. It will. It will.
But in August, I sat beside my dying motherâ€™s hospital bed and listened to her harsh breathing for minutes and hours, for sunrises and sunsets, and there were many times where I felt no future. No presence of God. Hope had left the room. Dreams were for those without restless nights.
Not so long ago, the literary agent who had once eagerly desired to represent my work, who had declared sheâ€™d help me find a publisher, emailed to say she longer wanted me as a client. Hope was snatched away. Dreams fizzled. The future was flicked away as if lint on a suit.
I could rehash my divorce, my time of another pastor lying about me and me having to leave a church, about Dadâ€™s grinding dementia, about my aging body that aches, about . . .
How many times in my life has the future seemed futile?
And my times are nothing. I, once divorced, with both parents now deceased, with thirty years of steady writing and little to show for it, have actually lead a charmed life.
I am not a Newtown, Connecticut parent dreading this coming (and every) December.
I am not a surviving spouse that hears my belovedâ€™s name read every September 11.
I am not a Palestinian child scampering in streets with Israeli soldiers holding automatic weapons.
I did not lose my house because of a storm named Sandy or a Mississippi levee breaking or a tsunami unleashing a nuclear reactorâ€™s half-life horror or an Oklahoma EF5 tornado gutting my town.
I am a white guy, middle-class, college-educated, with a nearly paid-off mortgage, health insurance and a pension plan. My lifeâ€™s been swell, compared to nearly everyone else, anywhere else. Indeed, it doesnâ€™t take much to convince me Iâ€™m far happier than Donald Trump (I used him as an example because I think heâ€™s such a jerk, even though he apparently is rich), Barry Bonds (I used him as an example because Iâ€™m a San Francisco Giants fan and his steroid stupidity still irks and embarrasses me) or any winner of any lottery.
In my worst of times, I always feel like I have a future. Except the times I donâ€™t.
I warily finished reading Jeremiahâ€™s passage, glimpsing of Godâ€™s odd glory. Jeremiah, so claimed scripture, bought a slice of real estate â€œat Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.â€ It was north of Jerusalem, his familyâ€™s land, andâ€”letâ€™s face itâ€”it was soon to or had already vanished into the Babylonianâ€™s voracious empire like a grain of salt added to stew. Jeremiah was the crazy fool, tossing away good money on land controlled by an â€œevil empire.â€ But Jeremiah was also the faithful fool, trusting Godâ€™s future, putting a down payment on hope. On dreams.
Maybe thatâ€™s why I keep reading the Bible. Itâ€™s honest, as a history lesson, as troubling metaphor, when it acknowledged the worst times. The Bible doesnâ€™t shy away from depicting Noah on the days after finding dry land, when he was more wet, er drunk, than dry. Or King David blubbering over his slain son, or Mary concluding Jesus was the gardener and not the risen Christ, or Paul pawing dirt on the road to Damascus, blind and helpless.
And yet God whispers to a prophet, to even me or you, and invites a hopeful look from the present toward the future . . . even in the worst of times.
Map from here.
Book image from here.