OK, WHAT was the point of this reading yesterday?

Following up on Friday’s Faith and Family post…

I frequently have ideas for blog posts during Mass on Sunday, and then I promptly go home and take a nap or something and then get busy with other stuff on Monday and forget about it.

Which I shouldn’t do because, you know, He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Anyway, yesterday I wasn’t at my own church — it was an Episcopal Church — but the readings are the same as ours, so I assumed the same question would have occurred to me. Unfortunately, the homilist chose the Gospel reading as his text — which was fine, except that the Gospel was a pretty straightforward cautionary tale, the one about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man who die and go to separate places, and didn’t need much explication to my mind.

What I had hoped somebody would explain to me was the first reading, the Old Testament one, which went like this:

No, wait! It wasn’t the same reading! We Catholics had an entirely different one, I find — and one that makes perfect sense to me in the context of the day’s theme (the Gospel readings were the same, and apparently the 2nd Reading, too, although I confess Paul’s letters tend to go in one ear and out the other — too much throat-clearing). You can find it here; it’s from Amos Chapter 6.

Here’s the Episcopal one, the one that confused me:

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of theLord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

That’s from Jeremiah; the Amos reading is offered as an alternative.

Anyway, can someone explain to me why we were reading that Jeremiah passage? Why is it in the lectionary at all? What’s the moral of the story? Where’s the editorial point, to put it in my vernacular? God tells Jeremiah to do a real estate deal, and he does, and then goes into more detail about it than I’d want even if I were a real estate attorney?


Here’s my wild guess as to what the point is: I think it’s sort of, even when you’re in a time of great social upheaval (Nebuchadrezzar bearing down on Jerusalem), you should carry on with life and its dealings. If that’s true, then it’s related to one of my favorite OT passages, also from Jeremiah, on carrying on normal life even while in exile:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. Increase there; do not decrease. 7Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends.b

(And yeah, I love that one in part because the last bit is way communitarian.) But if that is the point, it’s made really awkwardly and obscurely. Other thoughts?

17 thoughts on “OK, WHAT was the point of this reading yesterday?

  1. Lynn Teague

    You are probably right about living in times of upheaval being the underlying message. However it runs contrary to one of my own firm beliefs, which is that God is not a real estate agent.

  2. Pam Wilkins

    I’m Episcopalian and have no thoughts whatsoever about the matter. I assume that was true for my priest as well–we heard the reading from Amos! (But now I’m going to be wondering about this all day, of course.)

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, I was almost there as to the right answer, according to this site:

    The Lord’s purpose in having Jeremiah buy the field was to demonstrate to the Israelites that the Babylonian captivity was not permanent. Having the purchase documents preserved would allow Jeremiah’s heirs to establish their claim to the land once the captivity was over.

    So it is kind of related to that other Jeremiah passage I mentioned, which was followed by:

    For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.

    In other words, trust in the Lord – eventually, land in Israel will be a good investment…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Yeah. I think it’s a “keep the faith” message. Even if things look really bleak (like you’re about about be destroyed by the Babylonians) keep the faith that this destruction will be temporary, and your houses and lands will ultimately be restored.

      Also, Doug, this is a known exception to my “always buy title insurance” rule. If the LORD commands you to buy property, you don’t really need title insurance.

  4. John

    Protestants use the Revised Common Lectionary. The Catholic lectionary is similar since both are based on Vatican II. So topics tend to be close but not exact choices for the reading. Both have a topical reference to the Babylonian exile I believe for the first reading this week. The Catholic reading is I think a warning of what is coming; the RCL reading is a bit more pointed where Jeremiah specifically tells the King he’s about to fail but that someday the country will be restored. The point of the legalese, as I understand it, is that the return will be soon enough for those things to matter. Maybe it would be more appropriate to generalize and say that the lost item was actually paid for and claimed, although that’s pretty blatant reading of OT from an NT perspective.

  5. David Sibley

    Episcopal priest here.
    In the last decade, we adopted a slightly revised lectionary – called the Revised Common Lectionary – which, while largely based on the Roman Catholic 3-year cycle – as the Episcopal Church has been since 1979 – has some alterations – one of which is two “tracks” during ordinary time for the Old Testament reading during The Season after Pentecost – what the Roman Catholics call “Ordinary Time.” You know, green season.

    The priest of a parish is supposed to choose one of these “tracks” and stick to it. The first track is “semi-continuous” – that’s the one you had yesterday – and it traces some of the larger arcs of Old Testament salvation history – including a long stretch through the latter prophets such as Jeremiah in Year C. So the congregation would have been working its way through key texts in Jeremiah over several weeks this summer. In previous years they would have worked through the patriarchal narratives in Genesis in Year A, and the monarchy narratives of Saul/David/Solomon in Year B.

    The second track – (which I actually use at my parish) – had Amos yesterday. This is the one you’re more familiar with, as it thematically pairs the Old Testament reading with the Gospel text for a given Sunday.

    The idea is that the use of the semi-continuous track during Ordinary Time opens up some new preaching opportunities that might not be present otherwise, and also expose people – who may not be as diligent in their personal studies of scripture as they used to be – to the long arc of salvation history that’s present in the Old Testament.

    So that’s the “why…” hope this helps!

    1. David Sibley

      Oh, I nearly forgot. Track 2 is a pretty one-to-one parallel with the Roman Catholic Lectionary. The two lectionaries will converge again once we hit Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Eastertide…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Wait, so Anglicans don’t call it Ordinary Time? I have sung in two Episcopal cathedrals’ choirs, and we always called it that.
      Growing up in the LCA, now ELCA, we called it “Trinity”…

      1. Lynn Teague

        No “ordinary time” any more. Now it is Sundays after Pentecost. It eventually feels like serving a sentence, marking the tics off on the cell wall.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          You know Woody used to have purple suede oxfords for Lent and Advent and green ones for Ordinary Time. No white or red ones…

  6. David Carlton

    Brad, I think you got it the second time–Jeremiah’s purchase was an act of faith that the captivity would not be permanent–sort of like when in the old, pre-FDIC days a prominent local citizen would make a big, showy deposit in the local bank to prevent a run.

    As for the NT passage from Luke, my pastor stressed the portion of the passage about the rich man (named Dives in English folk legend) asking Abraham to warn his family of their fate should they behave like he did in life–to which Abraham responded that they have the prophets already; all they need do is heed them. Not a bad point to make, given the way in which a lot of “Bible-believing” Christians turn somersaults to explain how the scriptures don’t really mean what they say.

    Oh, and we Presbies call this Ordinary Time as well.

    1. Jeremiah Bailey

      “Brad, I think you got it the second time–Jeremiah’s purchase was an act of faith that the captivity would not be permanent–sort of like when in the old, pre-FDIC days a prominent local citizen would make a big, showy deposit in the local bank to prevent a run.”

      No, but you… you… you’re thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here. Your money’s in Rueben’s house…right next to yours. And in the Simeon house, and Mrs. Levi’s house, and a hundred others. Why, you’re lending them the money to build, and then, they’re going to pay it back to you as best they can. Now what are you going to do? Foreclose on them?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “I got two hundred and forty-two dollars in here, and two hundred and forty-two dollars isn’t going to break anybody.”

        I hate watching that part, because I just want to slap that guy. He just doesn’t get the communitarian nature of the Bailey Building and Loan…

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