Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-11; Ps 112; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
I grew up in the Northeast, along the coast, so whenever I read in the Bible about sowing and reaping and harvesting and scattering…well, these farming metaphors don’t really strike home. About the closest I ever came to farming was mowing the lawn. But living near the ocean I did spend some time on the water. Indeed, I had a number of friends who were commercial fisherman, and on a few occasions I joined them on their boats.
Although fishing at sea is very different from farming, there are similarities. Both are dependent on the whims of nature, and nature can be harsh. Both occupations can experience the kind of failure that can result in financial catastrophe, the loss of a season’s income.
Some elements of our lives are simply beyond our control. And I suppose it’s good that this is so, that we come to know we are creatures with limitations. The challenges and disappointments of life are strong reminders that we are simply men and women. We are not God.
Of course, you don’t have to be a farmer or a fisherman to experience loss. Diane and I volunteer as chaplains at our local hospital. Earlier this week, we received a late-night call to go to the ICU to meet with the family of a dying woman. As it turned out, she died just moments before we arrived.
Even though she had been seriously ill for some time and her family expected her death, her three grown children were devastated. Her son, especially, was overcome with grief. He had cared for day and night for over seven years and just couldn’t handle her death. His care for her had been a work of selfless charity that few of us could probably handle.
I suppose we spent at least 30 minutes simply listening to all three as they poured out their hearts and spoke of their mother. Fortunately all were believing Christians, and responded well to our feeble attempts to comfort them and they willingly joined us in prayer.
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus reminds us that our works of charity must be acts of humility. Believe me, I am always humbled in the presence of the dying and those who care for them.
And charity must be hidden, Jesus tells us, the kind of work that seeks no human reward. Charity, the business of love, yields no return. There’s no bountiful crop, no net-breaking catch, no obvious reward.
Nature is very fickle with her rewards, but not the Father, the One Who is love. As Jesus reminds us, these works of ours please the Father greatly. He loves our love. And He will reward us, just not always in ways we might expect. Perhaps the Father, who sees our works in secret, places a little something in our heavenly fishing net or silo. Maybe that little something, the Father’s reward, is something far greater than we can ever imagine.
My father, speaking of charity, used to say, “Throw bread on the water and it comes back strawberry shortcake.” You just never know when it will arrive.