Saturday, October 15, 2022
by Rev. Jerry Duggins of Westminster Presbyterian Church
How does your tradition embrace and interpret the teaching of its texts about the harvest?
Despite the fact that Jesus uses a lot of agricultural imagery, the New Testament says very little about harvest. When Jesus sends his disciples to preach the good news in the surrounding villages, he tells them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Jesus, of course, isn’t talking about food, but about people. Large segments of the Christian church have interpreted this as an instruction to go about “saving souls.” Not only do I not embrace this understanding, I feel like I should apologize for the great deal of harm the church has caused in its efforts to “save souls.”
I feel a little awkward even addressing this question. The best texts come from the Hebrew Scriptures; passages that speak about giving the land a Sabbath, rotating crops, allowing the land to lie fallow, emphasizing the respectful treatment of the land. I love the instruction about leaving a portion of the crop unharvested for the poor to glean afterwards. These texts are sacred to Christians as well, but you won’t find them read in church to often.
Historically, we’ve talked about the creation story in Genesis 1 quite a bit, but there’s a problem there as well. Our interpretation of “having dominion over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and the creatures of the earth” has wreaked havoc on this planet. Christians have to shoulder much of the blame the belief that people have the right to use the resources of the earth as they see fit. It’s important to acknowledge that there is much to regret and to distance ourselves from in my tradition.
But this is a party, a celebration of the harvest. Presbyterians are always looking for new ways to see a text because sacred texts are living. They are not a dead letter that reflects a time long gone, but a living word that speaks afresh in a new day. Today we reject the dominion over the earth by humanity, and we celebrate the soil from which we were created.
We are not above the earth, but of the earth; human and humus, sharing the same fate. The carbon we send into the air reduces the breathing capacity of the planet and the human lung.
When Jesus sends the seventy because the harvest was plentiful, it wasn’t for the saving of souls, but for awakening life. When you go out into the field to bring in the harvest, and you sit down at table with your guests; you aren’t trying to convert them to a certain set of beliefs; you’re sharing with them the things that sustain our lives. I cannot embrace the kind of harvest that wants to put everyone in the same box, but I can and do embrace the kind of harvest that multiplies life, that increases our capacity to breathe.
Jesus told a story about a person who went out and sowed some seed; some along the path, some on rocky soil, some on thorny ground, and some on good soil. The good soil yielded a hundredfold. A good harvest starts with a good soil. Unless we begin to embrace the earth, our traditions and sacred texts will become lost among the weeds. Loving the earth may, however breathe new life into our traditions and texts, may breathe new life into our human communities. That’s a harvest worth celebrating.