Recently Martha reminded us that there are some parts in the Bible that we are all perhaps even a bit too familiar with, as they get revisited all the time. On the other hand we have sections like today that, when opening the lectionary to put together a service, can be a bit discomfiting. What can we make of Jeremiah buying a field that is relevant to us today? But I think that in the same way that it is important to look at the more familiar texts in a way that allows us to see something new in them, it is also important to not discount the texts that don’t seem to speak to us
immediately. And here, for instance, I would argue that the key is in that very last statement. The Lord says to Jeremiah: houses and fields and vineyards will be bought again in this land. We know that this is a tough moment for the people of Israel. Jerusalem is under siege from the Babylonian, a conquering power that was far stronger than the Israelites.
It is very easy to see that for many in Jerusalem this would have seemed a hopeless moment. It must have been hard for them to imagine a future for themselves and for their children. Does the passage not, all of a sudden, speak to you a bit more? Just this very week we have seen all the protests and marches all over the world against climate change, and it may be hard for us too to imagine a friendly future right now. The sense of threat that the newspaper stories surrounding climate change convey to us may well make us feel under siege. Like the Israelites at the time, we too desperately need to find a kernel of hope for the future. Let’s think how much meaning there is, especially for the society of that time, in buying a field that can be farmed. That is an investment for the future. What the Lord truly tells Jeremiah is this: buy a field, because there will be need for farming, to feed those who will come. Let’s buy houses, to make homes for those who will come. It is not just simply about buying a piece of land; with that land comes the promise of a future.
As we all know, today is our Harvest Festival. It is a celebration that is literally rooted in the land. It is not so long ago in our history that land represented literaly the only source of our wealth, because in many societies ancient and medieval grain, that is the ability to make food, was wealth. During the French Revolution the anger of the people was not aimed at those who accumulated money, but at those who hoarded bread. In many parts of the world, grain, food, are still the most important thing to have, far more than money. Not everyone in the world can enjoy the ability we have to walk to a shop and simply buy all the food that we want.
For many, having a scrap of land to farm represents their entire livelihood still, and when that field is threatened, their very lives are. And yet today, there are those who hoard food and water. There has been a clip making the rounds of one of the heads of Nestlè, the multi-national company, arguing that free access to water should not be a basic human right.
Capitalising on the need for food and water is still unfortunately a business model that people profit from. To those people, we wish, the passage that we heard from Timothy’s letter should speak, warning them of the harm that their greed is inflicting. But it comes to us, too, to realise that our harvest is an easy one, and that it is not equally easy for others to put food on their tables.
And then there are, I would argue, other types of harvest. If you read the text of the letter closely it becomes clear that it is not wealth in itself that Timothy is condemning, but the selfishness with which wealth is used, or worse, put aside and guarded rather than put to use. In order to have a harvest, as we have seen with the children earlier, we first need to plant seeds, to water them, to tend them as they grow. Wealth – even the relative wealth that we all enjoy, when we compare ourselves to those who live in parts of the world affected by poverty, war and hunger – can become a seed that can lead to a good harvest for everyone. It is so when we donate to charities that help the less fortunate. It is so when we choose to buy environmentally friendly items that lift some weight off the shoulders of the planet. It is so when we invest in a better future for everyone, not just us. The future is also something that we can plant and water, tend and harvest, and it can lead to a better time for everyone.
There is hope in this day like there was in Jeremiah’s day. There is still need to build houses for the people after us who will live in them. There is still need to tend our fields, real and metaphorical, to provide for our children and their children after them. There is still a future; don’t believe the people who indulge too much in the rhetoric of doom and gloom,
arguing that there is not. The hope of a bountiful harvest is always present. But what we must do is work for it, recognise when we are blessed with wealth and share that wealth with others, turn that wealth into a seed to cultivate the future that hope promises. It is something that, working together, we can do. So as we go home today and we sit at our tables for lunch, let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves: what is our harvest, really? What are we going to plant and what are we hoping to grow that can benefit not just us, but everyone around us?
If we all asked ourselves that, I believe, then we could really look forward for a harvest of hope and promise for the future of the whole planet.