By Herbert O’Driscoll
(a reflection on Jeremiah 32: 1-15)
In the year 597 BCE the most powerful military machine in the world of that time attacked Jerusalem. During the months leading up to that attack a single voice dominated the discourse of that small society. His name was Jeremiah.
We know some things about him. He was highly emotional, immensely courageous and politically savvy. He insisted that it was futile to try to defy the Babylonians. For this determination he was ridiculed as a collaborator, and even imprisoned.
But before this happened he made a gesture that has come down through time and speaks to us powerfully today. He bought a piece of real estate. On the surface it probably seemed idiotic to buy a property with the market crashing around him. Yet he did it. He even took care to have a lawyer present. He called witnesses to see what he was doing, and perhaps because he saw utter bewilderment on the faces around him, he held up the document of purchase and declared, “I want this to last for a long time because thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel – houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
So why should we be in the least interested in that long ago incident. Why bother? I would suggest we bother for a very important reason. We are living at a time when confidence in the future is at a low ebb. We all know the litany of reasons for this. Climate change with its threat to every form of life. Population growth that strains our capacity to provide resources for living. Vicious wars, some expressing political revolution, other conflicts arising from religious fundamentalisms. Growing inequality of income and of access to resources even if they are available. Arising from all of these, great tides of migration sweeping across countries and even continents. The list is formidable and fearful.
Somewhere within all this ferment are the stresses being felt in all institutions and organizations, from the ordering of societies, the unavoidable growing pains of an increasingly multicultural world, and, because we are sharing these thoughts in a church publication, the place and role of religion in modern society, not to mention the complex interplay of religions and their accompanying social and cultural differences. Once again we face a future that can easily challenge even our best efforts at remaining hopeful. But remain hopeful we must.
The single finest expression of Hope as a necessary virtue that I know is that of Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, in his book THE DIGNITY OF DIFFERENCE. Here is part of it…
Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the faith that together we can make things better. It takes no courage to be an optimist but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.
Hope does not exist in a conceptual vacuum. It is born in the belief that the sources of action lie within ourselves. We are not unwitting products of blind causes. Humanity has never been at a loss for world views that place the source of action outside ourselves. Hope is the knowledge we can choose, that we can learn from our mistakes and act differently next time, that history is a long slow journey to redemption, whatever the digressions and false turns along the way.
Hope is a human virtue but one with religious underpinnings. It is the belief, not that God has written the script of history, that He will intervene to save us from the error of our ways or protect us from the worst consequences of evil, but simply that He is mindful of our aspirations, with us in our fumbling efforts, that He has given us the means to save us from ourselves, that we are not wrong to dream, to wish and to work for a better world.
That long ago day Jeremiah would almost certainly have gone to inspect his purchase. As he walked its perimeter I suspect he was hoping that his gesture would engender hope and stiffen the resolve of those around him.