A call to repentance and responsibility
We are living in a world which suffers from a deep disparity between rich and poor. God in the Bible, as we read in Deuteronomy 16:14-15, blessed everyone fairly and expected them to rejoice together:
“You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful”.
Our God is a fair God. One of the important instructions in Leviticus for God’s people was
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:9-10),
It was mandatory that God’s blessings should be shared fairly with the poor and needy. But we learn that God’s own chosen people have failed to act responsibly. The book of Prophet Amos points at the low spiritual standards of God’s chosen people. People became greedy and stopped following God’s instructions and values. The rich were becoming richer at the expense of the poor peasants, who were once farming for their living, but were now forced to farm for foreign trade — mostly wine and oil. (Amos 6:6).
God did intervene in restoring both His own people and His vineyard. The Psalmist is quite apt in saying
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it… (Psalm 24:1)
God had to deliver His vineyard from greedy and selfish caretakers. God wanted to save His world from immorality.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.…” (John 3:16)
Harvest Thanksgiving reminds us of our salvation and calls us to repent for being irresponsible in not taking care of God’s vineyard justly. During the last few Sundays we have been reading a number of parables from the Gospel of Jesus. In the parable of the two sons, who work in their father’s vineyard: one Son portrays the ‘sinful outsider’ but is surprisingly more reliable than the other son who belongs to God’s chosen community. The parable of the tenants (Matthew 21: 33-46) is a story of greed and violence against God and His vineyard by His own appointed care takers. The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14) is a story of God’s disappointment in His chosen people and God’s call to those who are outsiders.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Mathew 7:21):
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)
Jesus offered Hope and Assurance to the poor and needy and to all who are marginal in society. He picked up those who were not part of the history of the chosen people of God. Jesus created His own band of disciples who became His Spiritual Harvest to offer Hope and Assurance to the whole of mankind. For this act of gathering His true followers Jesus was killed by His own chosen people. They thought they killed Him but on the third day Jesus rose again. How could evil overcome the good? How could darkness overcome the light? Jesus defeated the nefarious plans of those so-called chosen people.
Jesus not only rose again from the dead; He also empowered His disciples with the gift of the Holy Spirit. These disciples became the true caretakers of God’s Harvest and drew many people to participate with Jesus in building a just and righteous kingdom on earth. Jesus showed His disciples a huge harvest waiting to be gathered into God’s fold to become part of His spiritual harvest on earth,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
We are the Church, planted by the labours of the Apostles of Jesus, the Saints, Evangelists and Missionaries down the centuries.
However we continue to live in a world where on the one hand people continue to suffer from injustice and unrighteousness and live in hunger and inadequate supply of essential needs for living, and on the other hand there is a progressively decreasing number of disciples of Jesus.
We are living in world where the rich continue to become more rich and the poor more poor. The circumstances in which many people live are quite hopeless and helpless. I do appreciate when our members and our school children bring gifts to the Church on Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday and we pass them to the Food Bank and to other needy people and organizations. But we have to move beyond our standard collecting and sharing of food to participating more robustly in becoming the voice of the poor and the marginal.
God has a much bigger dream than this for His world. He wants to establish His Just Kingdom.
Desmond Tutu speaks about A Vision of Hope for Our Time and speaks about how to transform our pain and sorrow into hope and confidence in the future. While fighting injustices in South Africa He says,
“…my confidence was not in the present circumstances but in the laws of God’s universe. This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. God is a God who cares about right and wrong. God cares about justice and injustice. God is in charge.” (Desmond, p2)
We have to confess that at times our acts of faith appear merely a tick-box exercise. For Jesus’ disciples their life was meant to be an instrument through which God could perform miracles. For this reason Paul so confidently said, (1 Corinthians 3:9),
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”.
We have to be more robust in our participation with God in building His kingdom on this earth. This will mean, that throughout the year we have to reach out to the poor and needy, become their voice and not forget to gather those people who are there to hear the Good News of Jesus and to follow Him. Harvest Thanksgiving is a time when we receive the call from God to repent of our complacency about partnering with God to fulfil His Dream and not fully carrying out our responsibility in building His Kingdom honestly. Let us commend our life to God that He may fulfil His purpose through us:
God of Grace, as you are ever at work in your creation,
So fulfil your wise and loving purpose in us
And in all for whom we pray
That with them in all that you have made
Your glory may be revealed, and the whole earth give praise you.
Desmond Tutu2004, God Has a Dream – A Vision of Hope for Our Time, Rider
Common Worship – Times and Seasons – Church House Publishing 2006
The Bible – NIV