When will there be a harvest for the world?

Thinking Anew

 

Tagore, the Bengali poet, has a poem I had gone a-begging, in which a beggar tells his tale. He sees the king’s golden chariot approaching and is excited because he thinks his luck may be about to change. The king alights from his carriage with a big smile, holds out his hand to the beggar and asks “What have you got for me?”

The beggar’s face falls, as he had expected to be the recipient of alms, not the giver. He roots in his bag and produces the smallest grain of corn he can find, reluctantly placing it into the king’s hand.

At the end of the day, the beggar empties out his bag, to find that the smallest grain has been transformed into pure gold. It dawns on him that he has reaped what he has sown, and he begins to weep. If only he had given his king everything, what a wonderful world it would be!

It is the season of harvest in our churches. In our church, instead of golden sheaves and garden produce, our harvest offerings consist of packets and tins for the local food banks. Nothing without a printed sell-by date please!

The innocence of past harvest festivals is gone, and we cannot help talking (or at least thinking) about the degradation of our planet – of pesticides and intensive farming, eroded top-soil and uncontrollable wildfires, the growing heap of species becoming extinct. “And for all this, nature is never spent”, as poet Gerard Manly Hopkins famously wrote. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Nature is indeed supremely resilient, and will flame out wherever she gets a chance. Perhaps humankind is the least successful part of nature (even though we dominate) because we have so dangerously misunderstood our place in the scheme of things. Without a shift in world-view we can see clearly now that the future looks bleak for human beings.

Yet a culture of gratitude, generosity, and solidarity with the whole earth should come naturally to us, as people of faith. We hold a fundamental belief in the abundance of God’s creation. Not only is there enough for everyone’s needs, there is plenty. Our problems stem from greed, from the sorry fact that 20 per cent of the world owns 80 per cent of the world’s resources. In our small corner of the world we are awash with excess, over-producing and wasting obscene millions of tonnes of food every year. Last month in the UK, 800,000 doses of expired Covid vaccine were destroyed, while many countries go without.

The Bible – both Testaments – is crammed with realistic, practical, wisdom around money and the distribution of wealth. A helpful principle widely practised is the giving away of a fixed percentage of our income. A fixed percentage is a good start because it means that the more we have, the more we give – win/win. The world is full of money, and it all belongs to God.

One of my sons is a Deliveroo rider, and he has taken on the wholesome practice of giving away 10 per cent of everything that he earns. Sometimes this may be a fiver, other weeks a tenner, it varies from week to week. He enjoys deciding where he is going to donate. Sometimes WaterAid. Perhaps a homeless charity. Occasionally a Youtuber who deserves support.

And he finds (as so many have found before him) that the secret lies in giving first. If we have anything at all, we have enough to give. The Bible describes this “giving first” approach as the “first fruits” of the Harvest – the first of the grain, the first of the oil, the first of the wine. It establishes a healthy, creative, grateful flow. On the other hand, calculating first if we have enough for our needs and giving out of what is left invites a scarcity mentality.

The beggar in Tagore’s poem tragically misses his opportunity to step into the grace of giving everything to his king, and who can blame him? Yet we know we can never out-give God. When we give him back what is already his, we become abundantly rich, often in ways so beautiful that we don’t even think about measuring them.

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