The other day I heard people talking on the radio about buying-to-let, the practice of buying a portfolio of two or three bedroom houses and renting them out to tenants, either as a way of making a living or as an alternative to saving for a pension. Buying-to-let has been very popular in recent years and has been blamed for driving up the price of small houses. But the popularity of buy-to-let depended on low interest rates and on mortgages being easy to obtain.
The landlords who were being interviewed on the radio were finding it tough in today's housing market. One person had three properties which they wanted to buy, but no one would lend them the money. Another person had a portfolio of thirty properties. Was he making any money? he was asked. 'No,' he said. He wasn't even covering the cost of his mortgages. And would he do it again if he were starting from scratch? No, he wouldn't.
Jeremiah's action, in buying his cousin's field, is a bit like someone going out now and buying thirty buy-to-lets. It's a gesture of faith in the future.
The field he buys is behind enemy lines. Doubtless his cousin needed to sell in order to feed his family, who had taken refuge with him in the besieged city. It was Jeremiah's duty to redeem the field – that is to keep it in the family, if he could – by purchasing it from his cousin.
A lot of people would have said, however, that the middle of a desperate siege is no time to be squandering money on land, even if you do have a sacred duty to look after it. And Jeremiah was certain that the tiny kingdom of Judah was about to be conquered by the mighty army of Babylon. Nonetheless, God tells Jeremiah that he should not only purchase the land, but keep the title deeds safe and secure because – one day – land will be bought and sold in Israel again.
What are the things which make us anxious about the future? Jeremiah is proverbial for being someone who always assumed the worst, but here his message is exactly the opposite of doom and gloom. He says things can never get so desperate that we should lose our trust in God.