Biblical surprises

I’m always fascinated when I encounter surprises in the biblical text. Today was one such occasion. As I began preparing for the noon Eucharist, I turned to Lesser Feasts and Fasts. November 25 is the commemoration of James Huntington.

As is often the case, when I encounter a figure with whom I am not familiar, I look for alternatives. Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, I checked out the propers for Thanksgiving in Year C. The gospel was immediately approachable: Matthew 6:25-33 which include those wonderful words: Consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin…” Given the anxiety I was experiencing, trying to make final preparations for Sunday, after having been out of the office all day yesterday, they were words I needed to hear.

But the lesson from Joel was even more fascinating: “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield” (Joel 2:21-22). Remarkable words given the overall attitude toward the land and its non-human inhabitants in the Hebrew Bible.

I had to drive to Whitewater yesterday. As I did, I saw fields that had been harvested, cornfields that remained untouched, and farmers here and there picking corn. Our culture has tended to view the land as something to exploit, but Joel’s words suggest a more difficult and complex relationship. Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, the fruits of harvest. We live in a world that is very much divorced from the struggles of farmers, and their work in the fields. But much of our wealth is created on the backs of the poor, and on the backs of those who toil in fields to harvest vegetables and fruits for our tables. We also benefit from a system that exploits animals horribly. Thanksgiving is a hollow holiday indeed if we do not recognize the sacrifices of others (human beings and animals) to make our table full of food.