by R. Reed Lessing
The year is 588 B.C. and Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king, is establishing his headquarters at Riblah in modern-day Syria. Having destroyed the Judean fortresses at Lachish and Azekah, his troops are beginning to lay siege to the prize, the jewel, the crown of his military campaign, Jerusalem (cf. 2 Kings 25). Inside Jerusalem, commercial enterprises are collapsing, epidemics and diseases are sweeping the city, and property values are plummeting. Jeremiah, who is imprisoned inside the city, receives this word from the Lord, “Buy the field” (Jer. 32:25).
Jerusalem is collapsing under the weight of political, spiritual, and economic mismanagement. Citizens are stuffing money in their mattresses. No one will ever be a millionaire, and that’s their final answer. Along with Elvis, Jeremiah and all of Jerusalem are all shook up!
Yet the Lord tells Jeremiah, “Buy the field!”
The field belongs to the prophet’s cousin Hanamel, and it is located in his hometown, Anathoth, just three miles north of Jerusalem (Jer. 32:6–8). Now I’m from Denver, Colo., and I would leap at the opportunity to have some Mile High turf. But hometown or not, who wants to invest in this field when the Babylonians are knocking at the door?
Every financial investment in Judah’s future is hopeless. The stock market is roaring like a bear and no economic stimulus packages are on the horizon. Jeremiah had better get some better financial advice or hire a different real estate agent. If he doesn’t, he’ll lose his shirt.
“My,” we gasp, clutching our bankbooks and billfolds, “I wouldn’t buy that field in Anathoth. It’s not worth a plug nickel! I could lose my shirt!”
An Outrageous Investment?
We’re in the throes of a recession. Economists estimate that in 2008 the global economy lost $50 trillion. Nearly every day we hear about business slowdowns, layoffs, housing foreclosures, and bankruptcies. Ponzi schemes, corporate greed, economic meltdown, and downturns on the Dow have become a part of our everyday vocabulary. The bubble on many of our homes has burst, and collectively, our investments are worth perhaps half of what they were 18 months ago.
In times like these, it’s easy to look at ministry needs at our local congregation and mutter under our breath, “I’ve got to cut back somewhere, and the place to begin is my weekly offering.” Oh, we might lay down a twenty here and a ten there, but when asked to generously support the church’s mission, the temptation is to hang on to what little money we have left.
Should Jeremiah buy the field? Should he invest when Nebuzaradan, Nebuchadnezzar’s chief exterminator, is getting ready to enact the Babylonian scorched-earth policy? (cf. Jer. 52:12–14). Jeremiah! Listen to us! Play it safe! Why, you could lose your shirt!
Disregarding conventional investment strategies, Jeremiah writes, “I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel” (Jer. 32:8–9 NIV).
“Well,” we huff, “what else would you expect from someone who buries his underwear near the Euphrates River and digs it up years later? (Was it Hanes or Fruit of the Loom? Cf. Jer. 13:1–11). What else would you expect from someone whose nickname is ‘Terror on every side’ (Jer. 20:10), who is an unmarried social outcast (Jer. 16:2), a prison inmate serving time (Jer. 32:2), and is so emotionally unstable he says, ‘Cursed be the day I was born’ (Jer. 20:14)? Three Dog Night was right. Jeremiah was a bullfrog!”
Jeremiah counts out 17 shekels of silver, signs a deed to the land, gathers witnesses to the purchase, and then gives a sealed copy of the transaction to his buddy Baruch (Jer. 32:10–14). Why would someone make this kind of investment during such turbulent economic times?
Let’s let Jeremiah answer that for us:
- “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (23:5–6).
- “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (29:11).
- “Ah Sovereign Lord, You have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You” (32:17).
Jeremiah knows a coming Davidic King who will declare him righteous and forgiven. This gives him hope for the future because his God is the Creator of the ends of the earth. So what does Jeremiah do? He buys the field!
In Jer. 1:10 the Lord calls him to be “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow.” But the verse goes on to include the words, “to build and to plant.” And building and planting means that there will be life beyond Babylon.
Buy the field? Invest in God’s kingdom? Pour resources into His people and His mission?
More Outrageous Investments
Israel’s greatest prophet made similar outrageous investments in what many deemed to be lost causes. He offered living water to the Samaritan woman (John 4:13–14), healing to blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46–52), and a new beginning to the desperate Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). Because of these investments, some even compared him to Jeremiah (Matt 16:14). And the skeptics, always prone to play it safe in tough times, said, “What else would you expect from someone reared in Galilee (John 7:52), whose nickname is Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24–28), and who is so mesmerized with His death that He says, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and He must be killed’” (e.g., Luke 9:21–22)?
Because of His spending strategies, this prophet lost His shirt, literally. “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots” (Matt. 27:35). But Jesus lost more than just His shirt. He lost His friends in Gethsemane (Mark 14:50), the skin and muscle off his back at Gabbatha (John 19:1, 13), and the presence of His Father at a hill called Golgotha (e.g., Matt 27:46).
Spit and blood are caked to His cheeks. His lips are cracked and swollen. His lungs scream with pain. Stretched nerves threaten to snap as death twangs her morbid melody. Why would someone who ruled the universe spend His life to the point of dying as a condemned criminal?
Again let’s let Jeremiah answer that for us:
- “This is what the Lord says, … ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’” (31:2, 3).
- “Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah’” (31:31).
Jesus’ everlasting love for you compelled Him to institute a new covenant meal that delivers full forgiveness in His body and blood (e.g., Luke 22:14–22).
And it cost Him everything.
But three days later what was uprooted and torn down, destroyed and overthrown at Calvary was built and planted at an open tomb. Believers saw Him alive in Jerusalem (John 20:16–18), Emmaus (Luke 24:13–34), and Galilee (Matt. 28:16–20). There is not only life beyond Babylon, but there is life beyond your present guilt and despair. And there is eternal life beyond the grave!
We are all risky investments, but in his Small Catechism Martin Luther reminds us that we have been, “purchased and won from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death; so we may be His own forever.”
Rooted in Grace
This economic downturn is wreaking havoc on many families, marriages, businesses, and churches. But all is not lost. Our heavenly Father is relocating the roots of our joy in His grace and not in our goods. He is inviting our trust to be in His mercy and not in our money. And He reminds us that our lives have worth, not because of our savings, but because of our Savior. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my Helper; I will not be afraid’” (Heb. 13:5–6a).
And so, even in a serious recession, we are empowered to invest in ministries that proclaim the unconditional love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Alive in the Baptismal flood and the Eucharistic feast, we will continue to spend our resources to promote Christian acts of mercy. Bought in blood, we are still delighted to lose not just our shirts, but our very lives for Jesus Christ!
“And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign Lord, say to me, ‘Buy the field’” (Jer. 32:25).
And he did.
And we will!