Prophets sometimes did more than just speak God’s words to the people. Sometimes they had to act them out, too.
Here, Jeremiah answers God’s call by buying a piece of land, which sounds kind of weird. Especially when we see the situation he and the rest of Jerusalem face.
Both the Babylonians and the Egyptians have plundered Jerusalem several times before this. The Egyptians looted the temple itself, taking the Ark of the Covenant, which will stay lost until Indiana Jones finds it in the 1930s.
The Kingdom of Judah has seen better days. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has laid siege to the city and plans on its final destruction. The rulers know it, the people know it and Jeremiah knows it.
He knows it better than anyone, because he has been warning them about it for most of his career. And now, when the city is in its last days, he buys some land from his cousin.
Not only does he buy the land, he properly registers it in front of witnesses and he formally weighs the money so everyone knows it’s worth what it’s supposed to be. He has the deeds and records sealed for storage, just as if he believes he might someday have to prove he owns it.
What a nut! For one, if the property’s outside the city, Babylonians have al-ready been tramping on it for several weeks. For another, the chance that the records, the storage place or the city itself will be around much longer is razor-thin. Jeremiah himself, if he survives the sack of Jerusalem, faces exile to Babylon. At his age, he may not survive the journey and he won’t live long enough to ever see or get any use from the land he’s bought.
Why does he do this? Well, God tells him to, which is a good enough reason. But why did God tell Jeremiah to do such an odd thing?
Could it be the whole “Keep a stiff upper lip” kind of thing? Many people who survived the German bombing of London said they took courage from Winston Churchill’s speeches and his encouragement. Could God want Jeremiah to demonstrate that characteristic for the Hebrew people?
Maybe, but Churchill kept his people going with the promise that they would survive and the bombing campaign would end someday. God knows that the Babylonians will win this war and destroy the city. Would he give them a false hope?
No, but he would give them real hope, and Jeremiah’s purchase can do that. Look at it with the eyes of those who lived in Jerusalem then.
They know Jeremiah as the man who said every bad thing in the world would happen to the kingdom of Judah, and guess what? Every bad thing is sitting outside the city gates right now. Here Jeremiah does something that suggest hope, and anyone who has listened to him knows he just doesn’t do that very often. Maybe they should pay attention to him when he does?
And since his predictions of doom turned out to be right, shouldn’t his prediction of hope turn out to be right as well? Maybe no one knew how the chosen people would be saved from complete destruction, but couldn’t they base their hope on what Jeremiah has done? I think so, and I think Jeremiah shows us what a person who follows God can mean for the people around us.
Because we, Christians, are called to bring that same message of hope to the world around us.
Wouldn’t it be easy to just hunker down in our churches and safe places and watch the world go berserk around us? People who believe hate and death are the answer, or people who follow the gods of their own desires and lusts, or who just look for whatever they can get from life – all of them, just forget about them and let them head on down the road in their handbasket.
But Jeremiah shows us that the people of God have an obligation to proclaim hope in the midst of hopelessness. We’re the people of the resurrection, after all.
In the last Lord of the Rings movie, Aragorn the king rallies his troops in the face of an immense army. “The day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day!”
Christians, the day may come when the people of God give in to hopelessness. But as long as we follow God’s guidance, as long as we allows ourselves to depend on him and trust him, as long as we remember we follow the carpenter who was crucified but is risen, then I would echo Aragorn’s words. It is not this day.
This is the day of the good news.