The Unknown Dead
As usual, I heard a phrase last night during a repeat episode of Heartbeat from 2001 (airing on TVO) that made me go, ‘Huh?!’ The MoD (Ministry of Defence) were concerned because a couple were searching through the moors for an airplane that crashed there during WWII. They (the MoD) didn’t appreciate the fact that an exhumed body (if found) would need to buried in a potter’s field (unconsecrated cemetery). Better to let the body stay where it was, they thought.
A potter’s field?
This must be an English term, I thought, because I remembered a few lines from St. Matthew 27…
3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!”
5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.
6 But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” 7 And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
9 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
My annotated King James Version points me in the direction of Zechariah 11:13, where the thirty pieces of silver (being the price of the Lord) were ‘cast to the potter’ in the temple. It seems that the intention was therefore slightly different.
The other scripture that is referenced by my Bible is Acts 1:18-19…
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) NIV
Note that this whole quotation is in brackets. To me, that usually implies that something has been added to the narrative. And academics like to point out that the Acts of the Apostles was written before St. Matthew’s Gospel. So, this may have just been the way Judas’ death was understood at the time. (In other words, Jerusalem gossip…)
The Pottersville Cemetery
In George Bailey’s wonderful life, this part of Bedford Falls was Bailey Park, where clients of the Bailey Bros. Savings and Loans built their homes. In the version where George had never been born, Potter (the big man in town) would have converted this field into a cemetery. Potter’s Field!
The movie even referenced this fact in a quote:
Reineman: Look, Mr. Potter, it’s no skin off my nose. I’m just your little rent collector. But you can’t laugh off this Bailey Park any more. Look at it…Fifteen years ago, a half-dozen houses stuck here and there. There’s the old cemetery, squirrels, buttercups, daisies. Used to hunt rabbits there myself. Look at it today. Dozens of the prettiest little homes you ever saw. Ninety percent owned by suckers who used to pay rent to you. Your Potter’s Field, my dear Mr. Employer, is becoming just that. And are the local yokels making with those David and Goliath wisecracks!
Potter: Oh, they are, are they? Even though they know the Baileys haven’t made a dime out of it.
Reineman: You know very well why. The Baileys were all chumps. Every one of these homes is worth twice what it cost the Building and Loan to build. If I were you, Mr. Potter…
Potter: Well, you are not me.
Reineman: As I say, it’s no skin off my nose. But one of these days this bright young man is going to be asking George Bailey for a job.
Potter: The Bailey family has been a boil on my neck long enough.
So, I leave it to you: was that a hint, or what?
(And my title of this post, and the first subtitle, are echos of “In Flanders Field the poppies grow…”)