Last fall, I planted daffodil bulbs in the front flower bed of the house I had just purchased. I was so excited about having my own home, and being able to plant bulbs again, I sent away for over 200 bulbs. When they arrived, I started digging holes, and discovered that the bark mulch was covering a concrete-like substance that I could hardly call soil.
I would have given up, but I already had the bulbs, so I persevered, and managed to plant about half of them. Then I quit. I refreshed the bark mulch in the bed, and called it good. I was able to plant the rest of the bulbs in containers.
As we approached the spring equinox, I set out the containers, which had wintered over in my garage. The daffodils came up, first on my southern-facing back patio, and then on my north-facing front porch. I had lovely displays of both regular and mini-sized daffodils.
The surprise was that many of the daffodils planted in the wretched soil of my front yard have struggled to life and bloomed. They don’t even look as if they’re trying hard. Although I don’t have the stunning display of my dreams, I still have some beautiful flowers in my otherwise drab yard.
So spring surprised me again this year. Every year, I expect to appreciate and enjoy it, but every year, the contrast between winter and spring jolts me again. The bright green of new willow leaves shocks my eyes. My allergic reactions to pollen seem like something I should have gotten over by now, but no, I’m coughing and sneezing as hard as ever.
I wonder why I’m surprised again and again by the creativity inherent in the universe. Do I think it should ask me before it does anything? Do I imagine that I should have some control over the change in the seasons?
We humans like to manage our environments. Heating and cooling systems tame the extremes of winter and summer. Window screens keep out the bugs, and pesticides kill creepy spiders. Computers create animated versions of nature, which sometimes seem more attractive and wonderful than the broadleaf weeds and spit bugs in our real lives.
Nature was real and challenging to Jesus and his followers. They knew how hard it was to catch fish, grow grain, and cultivate grapes, figs, and olives. Working with nature wasn’t optional, as it is for most of us. In our world, a relatively small group of people do the majority of the work required to feed our country. Many of us have no idea where our food comes from before it arrives in the supermarket.
Are we as free from farming concerns as we think? What if something goes wrong with our agricultural system? In the past year, the pandemic has disrupted many processes and supply chains we took for granted. Who can forget the toilet paper shortage? Now we have a shortage of ketchup at the grocery stores because so much of it has been made into packets for the drive-thru trade. These are supply chain issues. What if we have real food production failures?
We also have food distribution failures. There’s food, but people who need it can’t always get it. Sometimes people live in “food deserts” where food is only sold in convenience stores that have limited inventory, and sell a lot of junk food. Sometimes people can’t afford enough food.
There was no junk food in Jesus’ day. All the food produced was necessary. There were food distribution problems, caused both by inequality and agricultural issues. Grain had to be transported from highly fertile areas like the Nile delta to places with less capacity to grow grain. Wealthy people feasted while the poor starved, as in the story of the poor man Lazarus, dying outside the home of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31.
If Jesus were to come back today, what would He think of our agricultural system? What would he think of our meat packing plants? What would he say about our plethora of junk food? What would he think about the massive quantity of manure produced by intensive dairy farming?
I think He would enjoy some of our ornamental horticulture. He praised the beauty of lilies in Matthew 6:28. But would he ask why those of us who live in a desert climate use so much water to keep our lawns green?
I think He might call us to account for how we fail to produce daily bread for everyone. What would we say to Him?
Let us pray...
Lord, we give thanks for the beauty and productivity of the natural world, even as we remember that not everyone is allowed to participate in the joy of nature and to receive their fair share of its bounty. Help us to honor the word “our” when we pray for our daily bread. “Our” means more than one person, and in the Kingdom of God, it should mean everyone.