The Persistence of Hope
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3 where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
6 Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." 8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. 9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 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. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
The end of the American Civil War devastated the southern states as the northern armies destroyed many cities and homesteads. Perhaps Joan Baez gave voice to that trauma which broke the bonds of our nation in her song The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. I’m going to try and sing the refrain and you join me on the Na na na’s
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringin'
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singin'
They went, "Na, na, na, na, na, na
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na"
Many of us distance ourselves from that glorification of the legacy of the Southern cause since we understand the racism which validated slavery and that the Civil War was fought to overturn that immoral system. Yet the heartbreak of people witnessing the burning of their homes, churches and civil buildings resemble the feeling of the people of Jerusalem in today’s first reading. When the people mounted the walls of Jerusalem, they could see the Babylonian army surrounding the city. While the false prophets predicted that God would overturn the Babylonian army, Jeremiah told the people they should surrender to the Babylonians. The Jewish leaders convinced the king that he should not surrender. Everybody knew that some great calamity was about to destroy the country. Everybody knew that they were about to lose everything.
At that very moment, when everything seems lost, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, makes his way from their hometown of Anathoth, a town already under the control of the Babylonians, with a property deal for Jeremiah. It does not take a genius to understand that all the land in a country about to be destroyed is not worth a pile of beans.
Going back to that song I mentioned at the beginning, just imagine the people from Atlanta to Savannah after Sherman devastated the state of Georgia. You could not get top dollar on real estate in Savannah after it was burned by Sherman. Keep that detail of real estate in mind when you remember that Jeremiah paid top dollar for his cousin’s property in war ravaged Anathoth. Only a fool would buy that property. And God told Jeremiah to play the fool.
Why? God told Jeremiah to look beyond the immediate destruction: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jer 32: 15)
It takes a special type of vision to see promise when destruction surrounds us. It takes the persistence of hope to see the light when all we experience is darkness. That hope comes to us only from God.
For an addict who is struggling with sobriety, for the person caught in a job without any personal satisfaction, for the family who have lost the fun in their dysfunctionality, for the person who so desires that loved one who never seems to come on the scene, hope seems like an elusive bird. So many of us know that poem by Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
The prophet Jeremiah paid a terrible price for the prophetic gift which he was given. God gave him the painful task of reprimanding a nation intent on taking a path away from God, a path which lead to their own destruction. God secretly told Jeremiah that 70 years would pass from the time Jerusalem would fall until the time the people would return from their captivity in Babylon.
If we put ourselves in Jeremiah’s shoes, we would feel the challenge of buying a piece of land which we would never see revived in our life time. For that reason, Jeremiah took the deed for the property, put it into a jar and buried it so that a future generation would discover it and some into a land which was valuable. God asks us to take that leap of faith, to journey into the darkness and anticipate restoration. For those of us suffering from wounds, physical, emotional or spiritual, wounds which seem to defy healing, God invites us to step into the darkness with that persistent hope that light will shine for us. For those of us caught in a pattern of living so that we feel as if we are on a merry go round, perhaps God invites us to get off the carousel and discover a different way.
All too often, we get caught in patterns which we have lived for years, we lose hope of ever moving beyond that pattern, and then something alights in soul and shows us a light we had never before seen. Pray today for that persistent hope to dawn in your heart. Wait, be willing to wait, even as Jeremiah waited, and look for a light to dawn a light you never imagined.