O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
After 31 chapters, at last we have a small break in the jeremiad to which the author for all times has given his name. He is still in prison for speaking truth to Hezekiah; nevertheless, he comes into some property of his own, for seventeen shekels of silver. So momentous is the occasion, that Jeremiah makes a big to-do out of processing the deed in front of the guards, witnesses, and Judean observers.
“Take these deeds…and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.”
For Jeremiah, his purchase indicates that God will again bring good things to Israel. To own property outside his captivity is his witness that captivity will not last forever.
In July I sold that last patrimonial land that I still owned in Alabama, my home state, given to me by my father before he died -- family property, much like Jeremiah’s family field at Anathoth purchased from his cousin Hanamel.
My father came into the property when he was just out of college in 1926. His father, W. Louie Crew, set him up as a Chevrolet dealer, but the dealership went under in the wake of the Stock Market crash of 1929. A customer named Duckworth was no longer able to make his payments on a car. Distraught, Mr. Duckworth deeded to my father a few acres in a neighborhood of the very poor.
For almost 50 years my father sold bit by bit, each for more than Mr. Duckworth’s Chevrolet had cost him. In the 1980’s Ernest and I continued to pay taxes on the remnants that no one had wanted to buy, we sold a couple of scrawny plots for several thousand each. In July this year, for four times what Mr. Duckworth’s car cost, we sold the last small plots.
This Instrument Prepared by xxxxx x. xxxxx, Attorney at Law, LLC….. KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS that in consideration of One Hundred and No/100 Dollars ($100.00) and other good and valuable consideration to the undersigned grantor in hand paid by the grantee herein, the receipt whereof is acknowledged, I, Erman Louie Crew, Jr., a single man, herein referred to as Grantor, do grant, bargain, sell and convey unto…xxxx xxxxx and xxxxx xxxxx, wife, herein referred to as Grantees, as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the following described real estate situated in Coosa County, Alabama, to-wit: All of my right, title and interest in the NW ¼ of Section 15, T 24N, R 20E, Coosa County…..
I am struck by the archaic syntax we still use for affairs long considered momentous. It is as if the Judeans are still sitting in the court of Jeremiah’s guard with witnesses who signed his deed of purchase.
I called the lawyer noting that he had sent me a check for $2,000 yet indicated only $100 in the instrument. “That is standard,” the lawyer explained. The state has no right to know how much property costs. The extra amount is covered in the wording ‘and other good and valuable consideration.’ You have broken no laws by signing it. Instead, you have preserved your privacy.”
“Also,” I continued, “the instrument describes me as ‘a single man’ and yet, when you asked, I told you that I am in a legal domestic partnership with Mr. Ernest Clay.”
“Legal in New Jersey, yes,” the lawyer said, “but not in Alabama.”
Ernest deposited his $1,000 into his bank; I deposited my $1,000 into my bank.
I hope the purchaser buys an earthenware jar in order that the new deed will last for a long time. I wish he could put with the deed our two canceled checks. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: fields shall be bought and sold in this land by new kinds of families.
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Is Psalm 91 sentimental clap trap or God’s bonafide commitment to deliver us from the snare of the hunter and from the deadly pestilence, from the plague that stalks in the darkness and the sickness that lays waste at mid-day?
Ask the millions who died in the Holocaust?
Ask those stalked in the darkness by the plague AIDS?
Ask the victims of tsunami, earthquakes, and tornadoes?
Were they destroyed because they did not abide under the shadow of the Almighty?
Had the children of Haiti done something to bring the earthquakes? Had they voluntarily separated themselves from God’s protection?
1 Timothy 6:6-19 and Luke 16:19-31
The epistle and the gospel today are of a piece, and should make uncomfortable all but the poor.
In Luke 16 Jesus warns against measuring our worth by the material comforts we have laid up. Jesus does not subscribe to the theology of “The one with the most toys wins.”
Saint does not subscribe to that theology either. He counsels Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. "
In speaking about the rich, Saint gave Timothy and ‘out,’ albeit an awkward one. He did not say “Money is the root of all kinds of evil” but rather “the love of money.” Once one gets the knack of it, a rich person can easily mask the love of money as something else:
In 1965 one of my students at a fine prep school came to me in tears at graduation complaining that his father, a high-ranking officer in a major aircraft company, had given him only a 2-engine jet as a graduation gift. “Mr. Crew, with a 4-engine jet I could fly much more expeditiously to serve the poor!” he said between tears. I am glad that I had the integrity to laugh at his claim. But I would be embarrassed for starving Christians to read my diabetic log of the scrumptious fare I so avidly devour daily.
“No one needs to make more than $25,000 a year,” Eleanor Roosevelt once said, in defense of taxing severely those who made more than that. Was her personal annual allowance about $25,000 a year?
Jesus is harder on the rich than Saint is. In his parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus, Jesus indicates that the rich man has advantages only while on earth: he then goes to Hades from which he is able to observe the beggar Lazarus now living a life of luxury in heaven. Furthermore, once in Hades, the rich man finds it too late to convert.
Will the pastors on Fifth Avenue pay any more attention to Saint and Jesus today than do the pastors of the homeless?
I am reluctant to romanticize the poor. There is nothing ennobling about starvation or homelessness.
The Doukhobors, a small Russian sect, reject the secular government, Russian Orthodoxy, icons and the like, and like the Amish, eschew most things modern. By the end of the 19th century, most of them had fled Russia and settled in Canada. Once a year the more extreme Doukhobors gather to dance naked around a huge bonfire on which they have heaped all of the prize modern baubles they can discover purchased by backsliders in their community. “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these,” they echo Saint in his counsel to Timothy.
Artist Walter Sorge once painted a series of oil paintings showing the Doukhobors dancing naked, the painting growing more and more abstract, fat and ugly shapes dancing in fervid self-righteousness.