We’re looking this morning at a real estate deal, that under normal circumstances, would probably have been a fairly wise purchase. Some people seem to have a knack for dabbling in real estate. They know when to buy and they know when to sell. They understand the market, and sometimes they can make a lot of money.
But given the circumstances in our passage this morning, this is no time at all to be dabbling in real estate. The year is 587 BC and the people of God are at war with the Babylonians. “At war” is probably not the best term to use. The Babylonians have attacked the land of Israel, they’ve got the land under siege, the people of God are losing big-time, and in just a few months, God’s people are going to be carted off into exile in Babylon, where they’ll languish in a state of slavery for the next seventy years. The future looks grim. It is all doom and gloom. It is no time to be investing in real estate. And, as it turns out, the piece of property in question has already been captured by the Babylonians, and so Hanamel, our seller, isn’t getting any use out of it himself. And so its not too hard to see why Hanamel wants to unload this land. The future is frighteningly uncertain, and Hanamel probably would like to have some cash in his pocket.
And to complicate matters, Jeremiah is in jail. And he’s in jail because he’s not been playing the role of the polite prophet. Jeremiah has been prophesying that there is doom and gloom in store for God’s people. And Zedekiah, the king, does not like this. In spite of overwhelming reality, Zedekiah is one of those kings who wants things to look like they’re just fine, even when they’re not. He is the consummate politician. And so Zedekiah has thrown Jeremiah in jail to shut him up. It probably does not help matters any that part of Jeremiah’s prophecy has personal implications for good old King Zedekiah. Jeremiah has been preaching that not only will God’s people lose the war, but King Zedekiah himself will be captured and taken to Babylon as a prisoner of war. I suppose that if I were King Zedekiah, I would have taken some steps to keep Jeremiah quiet too.
While in jail, though, Jeremiah hears from God. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, and the message was that his cousin Hanamel, was going to visit him and try to sell him a piece of land. And sure enough, as confirmation that Jeremiah had surely heard from the Lord, Hanamel showed up. Confirmation is good. Sometimes people purport to hear something from God, but all they’re doing is listening to themselves. And Hanamel said exactly what God said: “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.”
According to Hebrew law, it was expected, that when land changed hands, that it stayed in the family. Apparently Hanamel has no heirs, and so Jeremiah, being his cousin, is his closest relative. And so the right of possession and redemption belongs to Jeremiah.
Anyone who’s ever bought or sold real estate can probably identify with all of the legal wranglings that Jeremiah and Hanamel went through to officially transfer this property. It’s a very complicated and drawn out process, and Jeremiah feels the need to describe it to us in great detail. He wants us to know that he is truly acting in obedience to God. He really is buying the property, even at a time when no one should be buying or selling.
The most important thing that Jeremiah tells us about this transaction is that both copies of the deed were sealed up in an earthenware jar so that they would last for a long time. Jeremiah has his eyes on the future.
In all probability, Jeremiah would never realize any benefit from the purchase of this land. He would be dead before he had the opportunity to actually set foot on it. So, what’s the point? Why did Jeremiah buy this land? Jeremiah bought it because he had hope. He had confidence in the future. In the midst of doom and gloom, and in spite of dire predictions, Jeremiah had hope. In addition to prophesying doom and gloom on the people of God, Jeremiah had also been preaching hope. He had been preaching that God would not ultimately abandon his people. Even though judgment and disaster would inevitably come, the eternal covenant made with Abraham would forever remain alive. And if that covenant was to remain alive, then by necessity, hope must remain alive too.
Jeremiah’s hope was in God. Because of his strong faith in God, Jeremiah could look at his own circumstances and the circumstances of his world in a very different light. In purchasing this land, Jeremiah took a step of faith against the odds. No disaster can take away faith and hope that is founded on God. Faith and hope that is founded on ourselves can evaporate in an instant. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can certainly have confidence in it, if our hope is in God. Jeremiah was convinced that not only would God stay faithful to his people, but he was also willing to put his own confidence in God into action. Jeremiah really did believe, that one day, houses and land and vineyards would again be bought and sold in the land, and that the buying and selling would be done by God’s people in their own restored land. And Jeremiah was right.
In a very real sense, Jeremiah’s purchase took on a sacramental quality. It was a sacramental thing because it was an obedient thing. Jeremiah would never gain any benefit from this land. He would never enjoy it. And so his purchase became a sign and a symbol of a greater reality. That’s what a sacrament is. It adds a holy and sacred significance to something that on the surface, at least, doesn’t seem all that sacred and holy.
Jeremiah’s purchase of the land became a sacrament. It became a holy thing. It was far more than just a business transaction. It functioned as a sign concerning God’s future intentions for his people. On the surface the purchase appeared to be a foolish thing. It wasn’t very wise, it wasn’t very practical, but it surely was holy.
Can we learn to act sacramentally? Can we grow a hope that is founded on God, and not dependent on our current circumstances? Can we develop a confidence in God’s promised future for us, even if things seem bleak and grim? What foolish, but sacred things are we as a congregation of Christ being called to do to demonstrate to ourselves and to our community that we have faith in God, hope that is genuine, and confidence in the future? These are things that we must ponder in our hearts. And then we must act sacramentally on them.