Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem at the time when the Babylonians were laying siege to the city. In the midst of the injustice and waywardness of his people, Jeremiah preached death and destruction and pleaded for the Israelites to return to their God-given identity of being instruments of justice and righteousness.
And yet, in the middle of the siege of Jerusalem and the impending destruction that Jeremiah had been talking about for 40 years, he shifts the focus of his message rather abruptly. In Jeremiah 32, Jeremiah is instructed to buy a seemingly worthless piece of land in what is soon to be a devastated city. Is this just a real estate transaction following in Mosaic tradition? Or one more in a long line of prophetic symbolic actions led by God? I found this description of Jeremiah in a commentary (I now can not remember where) that reads as follows:
Jeremiah seemed always to take the unrealistic position and seemed always to be at odds with popular opinion. When times were good, he warned of famine and starvation. When other prophets spoke of peace, he spoke of war. When others took refuge in religion, he talked of hypocrisy and false gods. When the people were joyful, he wept. When the king wanted a word of hope, he preached death and destruction. When the people began to slip into despair, he talked of hope and the future. When everything was about to go up in flames, he bought a piece of land and invested in the future!
I find this very strange. Here is what I can't understand. The city is about to be destroyed, and what value the land may have once held is about to be lost. Yet, Jeremiah in obedience to God makes this investment.
Now obviously there is much more going on than just some legal claim to the land that Jeremiah might have had, but it still seems strange. And how would it have looked to all of the people who knew Jeremiah and his message to them? The same person who for so long preached death and destruction was now talking about fields and planting and building, and painting a picture of a life of peace and normalcy. I can only guess Jeremiah was so convinced that God would work among his people that he was willing to make a monetary investment in the future of the city?
In verse 15 of Jeremiah 32 we begin to get some insight into God's plan for the future. Jeremiah's actions were not simply rooted in his hope for the future, but for God's purposes for the future. A future where in this place houses would once again be built and vineyards planted. Again quoting the above author (of whom I have no record),
Finally, though, Jeremiah's message was not about revolution, as revolutionary as most of what he said would have sounded to the people. His message was always, whether judgment or hope, about God, and about what God is about in the world. When the people were arrogant and self-sufficient, he spoke judgment. And now, when the people were beginning to slip into despair for the future, he spoke hope and a future.
Jeremiah begins to lift his eyes to a future that was possible, not by any human resource, but only by the grace, forgiveness, and provision of God.
This is the value for me in my own life and work. As I try to envision a future for my neighborhood and my city, I sometimes find myself swinging between hope and despair. There are days when I believe anything is possible and other days where I believe nothing is possible. Jeremiah's actions, however, teach me that for whatever limited expectations I might have for the future of my city, God can do more.
Neeraj Mehta has been working with others to uncover beauty and strength in north Minneapolis for the past 10 years. Previously he has worked for Project for Pride in Living and most recently as Program and Strategic Development Director for the Sanctuary Community Development Corporation. Currently, he is working with the community building intermediary Payne-Lake Community Partners, partnering with others to create more engaged and powerful communities in the Twin Cities.