A friend’s story of clearing the house of an elderly aunt after her death and finding a jar labelled, “Pieces of string too short to be of any use”, came to mind. It was a story of frugality in the Ireland of the 1950s, but, thinking again of the laughter the story prompted, it was also a story of the human spirit.
The aunt could think of no purpose for the fragments, but set them aside in a jar in confidence that at some point there would be a purpose to which they could be put. When the easiest thing to have done would have been to toss the string onto the fire, the lady set them inside a glass jar. More than that, she went to the lengths of writing a label and sticking it on the jar – a declaration of hope that a time might come when a purpose was revealed.
Irrational confidence in the future has about it a biblical resonance.
The prophet Jeremiah’s irrational confidence goes much further than saving pieces of string; it hits him in the pocket. The country is on the verge of invasion, it is about to be overrun by the army of the Babylonians. Everyone would have been trying to get things together, to sell whatever they couldn’t carry with them, the last thing anyone would want to do would be to buy land.
Jeremiah’s cousin, who wants cash he can carry with him, comes to Jeremiah and says buy my field and Jeremiah buys it. He knows it is a foolish investment, but believes it is a sign that there will be a future for God’s people in this place, ‘houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land’.
Thousands of people were taken into exile when the Babylonians invaded in 587 BC. The poorest people were left behind, the rest were to spend half a century in a foreign country. Jeremiah never returned to the field he had bought, but the story remained as one that encouraged people to have confidence in God’s plans. Even when everything seemed bleak and when there seemed no prospect that they would ever improve, Jeremiah’s story was a reminder that God would do unexpected things; that there was a point in having confidence in the future.
News reports suggest that the Report of the Commission of Investigation into child abuse in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin will be published by the end of the week. John Cooney, writing in last Friday’s Irish Independent wrote,
As Archbishop Martin waits patiently for the fall-out of the Murphy report, he has warned that “the report will make each of us and the entire church in Dublin a humbler church”. But for many lapsed Catholics — and for the many more who are still clinging onto the faith of their fathers — their trust in the institutional church has already gone.
For the many good and faithful ordinary Catholic people and priests, it may seem that confidence in the future is an irrational thing, for some, it may seem as eccentric as an old lady saving shreds in a jam jar; but to give up would be to allow the paedophiles to destroy not only the lives of those upon whom they were allowed to prey by a corrupt leadership, but to destroy the very heart of many Irish communities.