Monday, October 18, 2010

Right of Redemption

Real Estate. The more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Recently, the Old Testement reading was from the Book of Jeremiah, in the 16th chapter (editing for length):

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 the LORD.

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.

In many ways, this passage is a record of early Jewish Real Estate practices, and other than the direct Word of the Lord and His involvement in the affair, much of it still works this way.

Jeremiah is sitting imprisoned in the Court of the Guard in Jerusalem, besieged city just prior to it's destruction and the exile. Needless to say, the real estate market isn't doing too well in Israel and Judea right now...nor is farming particularly profitable. At some point or another, Jeremiah or (from the phrasing) his father "sold" Hanamel or Shallum a field, in Ananoth, a contract for eventual deed. Hanamel can't make the payments, and so is coming to Jeremiah and saying - "Buy it from me, for yourself, as you have the right to do because technically, it's still yours...but pay me back what I've paid you over the years in exchange." Jeremiah says, "Sure, why not?"

A lot of people are giving things back to the bank these days, trading in their possession of the deed and home in lieu of a foreclosure. The difference being that Jeremiah wants to own the land (or at least doesn't mind it), while a modern lending institution isn't in the business of possessing residential or agricultural real estate, they're a third party.  They won't pay you back what you've paid them. (God has a right of redemption, too. Pre-paid.) 

Then look at the account of closing. He gets his money together, with witnesses and the deed. He signs the deed, seals it, pays his cousin. Both the sealed deed and the unsigned copy so that the terms are clear, are given to Baruch, so that a record may be kept for a long time.

These days, we send you to the bank to get a cashier's check, then to the title company to sign the deed, pay the seller, and the closer witnesses, signs, and seals the deed. Then, after you go home with an open, unsigned copy so that you know what the terms are, the title company sends the sealed version (in triplicate) to the Recorder of Deeds, so that the record of sale is known and will last for a long time.

For the people of Jeremiah's day, they thought he was nuts. Why would you pay good money for something that has no value? The real estate market had frozen, mostly due to an invading army. Why sell when no one can buy? Why buy, when things were so uncertain?

Our God is a God of Hope (as well as trial, suffering, sacrifice, and love). It gets better. He never said life would be easy. He said He'd be a wall, guarding your back, there to lean on. We will survive the invading army of despair, apathy, hopelessness, intolerance, fear. And we will survive to reclaim ourselves and our lives and our livelihoods from the powers of darkness.

"For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land."

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