BUYING LAND BEFORE A WAR
Jeremiah 32:1-3,6-15, Psalm 91, Luke 16:19-31
September 27, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
Katharine White was a long time Gardening columnist for the New Yorker magazine. When she sent for the spring bulbs from the catalogue for the last time, she knew that she would never see them grow. Her husband wrote about her planting spring bulbs in the last autumn of her life before she died of cancer. He observed "her studied absorbtion in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her own detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection."
Today”s story of Jeremiah tells us about the same kind of faith in the future. Jeremiah bought a piece of land and hid the title deed in a stone jar, just before Jerusalem fell into the hand of the enemy troops, and was totally destroyed. Jeremiah knew that he would never take possession of the land. Jeremiah is not known for his optimism. In fact, he was a prophet of doom and gloom. He constantly accused the king and the people of Israel for their lack of faith in God and their immoral life style. He had warned that the result would be a total destruction of the nation. He had predicted the defeat of the Judean kingdom by the Babylonian empire. Soon enough, Jerusalem was besieged by the enemy troops. The king was annoyed and angry with Jeremiah and put him into prison. Yet Jeremiah was telling the truth. But nobody likes to hear the truth if it is a bad news. So what was the idea of buying a piece of property in a city which was about to be destroyed and occupied by the enemy? This story is telling us that the people with faith in God never lose hope, even though the immediate future does not look bright.
However, how can anyone be as optimistic as Jeremiah was, while they are angry with a corrupt world? Some people who get angry with the unjust and immoral world, act on their anger causing terrible destruction. We see them in Israel and Palestine. We saw them in Unabomber, or in Kansas City. We saw them in Northern Ireland, and recently in Kenya, and Tanzania. They are angry with the people who treat them unjustly or do not obey their God. They are not mere criminals. They are worse than criminals, because they are convinced that they are doing the right thing. They commit those terrible acts out of conviction, often ready to sacrifice their own lives for what they believe to be right. What separates those terrorists from the angry Prophets like Jeremiah is faith in a loving and merciful God. Jeremiah was angry with the corruption and knew that the future of the country was bleak, and yet he bought a piece of land. He never lost hope. He had faith in the future of his people, because he believed in the love of God.
When your belief in moral living is based on the laws of a loving God, your deeds are always motivated by love and never by hatred. Love does not diminish even in anger. There is nothing wrong with being angry, so long as love is the cause of anger. But when anger drives you to hateful and destructive acts, it shows that you don”t see any future. There is no love in your anger. Love is always hopeful, because love always anticipates the future. Love knows that there will be spring and summer beyond the coldness and darkness of winter.
There is nothing wrong with being angry with an unjust and immoral world. It is too bad that righteous anger is considered to be out of fashion. Many people in the church think that antagonizing people by speaking about the evilness of the world is not a helpful thing to do these days. They think that the church must be attractive. We have to offer nice music and a good time, to make people think that the church is a nice place to go. I don”t entirely disagree with this way of thinking. The church must give comfort to people and encourage people with strength to live on in this difficult world. But we must also remember that our religion has another important spiritual tradition. It is the tradition of the Prophets. Prophets say things that are right even though they may annoy people and make them feel uncomfortable.
Let me tell you a story. Old Michael was in his death bed. A priest came to give him the last rites. "Well, Michael," said the priest, "Are you ready to renounce the devil and make peace with your Creator?" "Yes, Father," answered Michael, "I am prepared to make peace with God. But as for the devil, I really am not in a position to antagonize anybody." We must know that in our religion, you can not have it both ways.
When we see injustice done to people or corruption in high places, we must be angry. It is worrisome when we see people forgetting spiritual values and pursuing pleasures as the only goal of life. When a nation loses spiritual values and moral principles, it is doomed. We must keep on speaking about justice no matter how unpopular that will make us. But in the mean time, we must remember that God who demands justice is also a merciful God who forgives and gives us a second chance. Therefore, we speak about righteousness out of love, not out of hatred. Love is always hopeful and anticipates the future.
One person who contributed more than many other people to bring justice into the world is Martin Luther King. He was once asked what he would do if the world ended the next day. He answered, "I will plant a tree." People like Jeremiah and Martin Luther King teach us that there is always hope even in an evil world, because God is good and merciful. I want to be hopeful as they are.