32nd Sunday of Ordinary Times

Last week in my homily, I pointed out that most people live by a guiding law or life code. For a few thoughtful people, that code of life develops after some careful consideration and reflection. For most of us, our life code is formed more by our environment. Experiences, culture, and religious faith all influence it. Jesus, last week, told the scribe that Christians need to follow the Golden Rule as their life code. Jesus said,

Hear, O Israel!

The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

With all your soul,

With all your mind,

And with all your strength.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

That guiding law gives rise to other principles. One of those principles I told you is the Harvest Principle. The Harvest Principle says, “You Reap What You Sow.” This principle comes from agriculture. You plant seeds in the ground, and if they get proper moisture and nutrients, you reap a crop. The harvest will always be of the same kind as the seeds you have planted. Tomato seeds produce tomatoes, and corn seeds produce corn. It is the same with the seeds of goodness or evil we sow in our lives.

In school, we also learned that principles have corollaries. Corollaries are other truths that come about because of the reality of the main principle. The Harvest Principle has two corollaries. One is that you reap what you sow, but the harvest takes time. That can be frustrating. Sometimes it seems the consequences of actions take a long time to develop. We need to remember results take patience and fortitude. A second corollary of the Harvest Principle is the harvest is always more bountiful than just the seeds sown. For better or worse, the more seeds we plant, the greater the crop we reap.

Last week I applied this Harvest Principle to the building of our character. We learned that if we make prudent, wise, and careful choices in our actions, we will build good character and expect blessings in return. Jesus taught if we sow mercy and forgiveness in our lives, we will experience those same things in return.

This week I’m going to apply the Harvest Principle to generosity. We also reap what we sow in our generosity or lack thereof. Today’s readings illustrate that very well. The first reading was from the First Book of Kings. First and Second Kings are historical books in the Bible. After the reign of King Solomon, David’s son, his kingdom experienced strife and split in two. The ten northern tribes became Israel and the two southern tribes, Judea. The Books of Kings recount the activities of the kings of Israel and Judea. The kings of both these nations were a mixed lot. Some were faithful to God and governed well. Others were unfaithful and led the countries down the wrong path. To get the kings to govern faithfully, God sent prophets to preach a return to faithfulness. The Books of Kings could also be called the Books of Prophets.

The greatest of these prophets was Elijah. He was a prophet in the northern Kingdom of Israel when a very corrupt King named Ahab ruled the country. Ahab had married a pagan queen named Jezabel and allowed her to establish the religion of her god Baal in the country. One day Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a sort of prayoff. Elijah won the prayoff and put all the priests of Baal to death. That, of course, upset Jezabel, and she vowed to assassinate Elijah. God instructed Elijah to hide in the desert while God punished the land for its sinfulness with a three-year drought.

Elijah obeyed God and hid in a cave by a spring in the desert where ravens brought him food. Eventually, the drought became so severe even the spring Elijah used for water dried up. God instructed him to go to Zarephath, where a widow would provide for him until the drought ended. That was a strange resolution to Elijah’s situation because Zarephath was a pagan city, and widows were the most vulnerable of people unlikely to be able to care for a stranger. That is where we pick up the story in today’s first reading.

When Elijah comes to the city, he meets the widow who will provide for him. The problem is she and her son are about to run out of food and starve to death. As we heard in the reading, Elijah put her to a test. He wants to find out if this is the woman who will help him. He asks her for a cup of water. In obedience to the Middle Eastern hospitality requirements, she heads off to bring it to him. He adds another request. He asks her for some bread too.

The woman tells Elijah she is almost out of food. She is down to the bottom of her jar of flour and the dregs of her jug of oil. She says she was out gathering fuel for a fire to cook the last of her food. Then she and her son will starve.

Rather than starve, Elijah gives her another option. He tells her not to be afraid and to practice reckless generosity. He tells her to do what she has planned but to give him a portion too. Elijah assures the widow the Lord, the God of Israel, says, “the jar of flour shall not go empty nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

Elijah is asking the woman to make a great leap of faith. The widow must believe in Israel’s God, who isn’t her god. She must trust that Elijah is a prophet of God and his God will be responsive to him. The widow must believe in the Harvest Principle. She has to trust if she sows seeds with the bit of food she has now, her return will be great in the future.

Now, how would you answer Elijah’s proposal? What would you do in such a situation? Would you step into the risk and give Elijah your food? It seems very reasonable to say, No way! I’m starving. I have a child depending on me. You are a stranger. We don’t share the same ethnic or religious backgrounds. She would have every reason to say no!

On the other hand, what did she have to lose? Her plan only puts off the inevitable. It didn’t eliminate her hardship. Elijah’s plan either speeds up her inevitable death, or it is going to bring her abundance and blessings.

She took the risk and made a meal from the little she had left in her fodder. She gave a portion away to Elijah. She got her reward. For a year, until the drought ended, she, her son, and Elijah all were able to eat from the jar of flour and the jug of oil. As the Principle of the Harvest promises, she sowed seeds of abundance out of her meager food supply. In return, she received all she and her son needed, plus something to share with Elijah.

I told you today I would apply the harvest principle to generosity with our gifts of time, talent, and treasure. We know there are all kinds of things we can do with our gifts. We can spend them on ourselves. We can hide them away. We can waste them. The most profitable use of our gifts is to sow them to do good. The best way is to share them with God and use them to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel, Jesus sees the widow put into the Temple treasury the two small coins, which were all she had to live on. She was practicing heroic generosity. She was willing to risk her physical wellbeing so that God could have glory. The widow’s contribution was trivial in its monetary worth but showed the depth of her love for God and her trust in God’s care for her. The widow felt confident in sharing what she had with God. She thought she wasn’t losing something but gaining more than she offered. She was investing in her future.

Christ’s followers feel confident they are investing in their eternal future whenever they share their time, talent, and treasure. Despite all medical science’s advancements, the mortality rate is still 100%. There are no pockets in coffins. Intellectually at least, we know we can’t take our wealth with us. God has promised, though, that we can send it ahead. Jesus preached over and over we can build up treasure in heaven. Those were Jesus’ exact words. Our giving needs to be sacrificial and cost us something. It can’t just be from our excess. We build treasure in heaven by giving to God by sharing our time, talent, and treasure with God’s Church and giving to the poor.

In two weeks, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. That Sunday is the final Sunday of our Liturgical Year when we celebrate the heroic generosity Jesus Christ has for all of us. It is an opportunity to take stock of how generously we share our gifts of time, talent, and treasure with God’s Church and the poor. That day I’ll be asking all parishioners to make a plan on how they will share their gifts with God during the coming year. Start considering this week how you can put heroic generosity into practice here in Holy Redeemer Parish, in Chatham, and the world.

We reap what we sow. We reap it later and in more significant amounts as time goes on. If we recognize that and honor it in life, we better understand our past and learn from it in our future. The harvest principle isn’t designed to be a weapon to beat ourselves with or make us feel bad. It is a means to help us live better in the future.

Now ask yourself what parts of your life you feel you might not be sowing the right seeds? Where are you sensing promptings to sow different or better seeds for your future? Is it your health, finances, marriage, relationships with your children or friends? How about your relationship with God and Jesus Christ? Take your feelings to prayer this week and talk to God about them.

Regardless of the seeds, we have sown, they need not define us. We are more than the sum of our mistakes and misdeeds. As important and powerful as the reality of the harvest principle is in our relationship with God, a more vital truth is God’s love and mercy showered on us so abundantly. Momentarily we will begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist when in heroic generosity, Jesus will renew the sacrifice of his cross. Jesus will pour forth abundant grace as he shares his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity so we can experience the fulness of life.