For almost thirty years, our family lived on a farm. We grew a huge garden filled with every vegetable imagined, several varieties of apple trees, grapevines, and of course, flowers. We raised small calves for sale and Christmas trees. Although we didn’t depend on our farm for most of our income, we knew what it was like when calves died, disease struck our trees, or the garden suffered from drought.
Every year about this time, memories of those days flood my mind and seem to become more vivid and numerous. The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, is filled with stories, parables, and illustrations connected to agriculture. Jesus frequently taught his lessons using parables and stories from the agrarian culture in which he and his contemporaries lived. He would often use examples from farm life: the sower who threw out seeds (the Word of God), Jesus as the true vine, we as the branches, we are known by the fruit we produce, seekers are the fields ready to be harvested, and when we follow Jesus we are his sheep.
Psalm 126 was sung as the Jewish worshippers made their way up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship and be thankful. They remembered the faithfulness of God to bring them home from exile. They also remembered that when they finally got home, work was to be done. Land to be cleared, water systems installed, houses built, and crops sown and harvested. It wasn’t easy and there were risks, along with the tests of their faith and trust. Verses 5-6 describe what is known as “the law of the harvest.”
“So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at harvest, So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” (The Message)
Farmers know all about what it means to sow seeds, water and care for plants, and harvest in the fall. There are three rules farmers follow:
The farmer’s livelihood depends on the sowing and the harvest. No harvest unless there is a planting. He is convinced that he must work to make the harvest.
The farmer can faithfully prepare everything for the harvest, but when and how much harvest will happen is out of his control. Consistency is everything, with no immediate rewards, and no exact time of harvest.
After all the careful planting, cultivating, and hard work, the farmer must let go of the outcome. There must be the realization that forces beyond human control will provide the harvest
A story from West Africa can help us understand and appreciate what farmers know about the “law of the harvest.” The climate of this particular region has an environment much like the Bible lands. The year’s food supply must be grown in the wet months of May through August. By January, family meals are cut to one a day, then as March comes, the food supply shrinks even smaller.
The story goes that a young boy found a bag of grain hanging high up in the goat pen. He excitedly brought it to his father thinking that now the family had food to eat. But the father quickly informed his son that this grain was not for them to eat, but to plant when the rains came in May. Those seeds of grain were the very life of his family for the future. When the time came, the farmer, with tears in his eyes, goes to his field, and scatters the precious seeds, convinced of the truth of the “law of the harvest.”
When the African pastors preach about thanksgiving and the harvest from Psalm 126, they proclaim, “Brothers and sisters, this is God’s law of the harvest. Don’t expect to rejoice later unless you have first been willing to sow in tears.”
Jesus taught us by his life and death to believe in the eternal law of the harvest. “A grain of wheat must die before it can bear fruit.” Jesus gave his life away so that the world could be saved—the bread of life. God invites us to sow in tears as we grieve over our sins, the Church’s, and the world’s. We die spiritually to our own interests, keep plowing, watering, praying, studying, encouraging one another, even when it seems the harvest will never come. It’s not easy to believe that the Lord of the harvest is faithful when all you see is barren, dry ground.
But like the farmer, we must sow the seeds, let go in faith, and trust God for the harvest in our own lives, our family, our church, our community, and the world.