Religion, Politics, and “Paying It Forward”

Religion, Politics, and “Paying It Forward”

Based on a desire for commonality among many churches, the Revised Common Lectionary is now in use throughout the English-speaking world. In the U.S., its sequence of Bible readings for each Sunday is followed not only in my own Episcopal Church but also in the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Missouri Synod, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and nine others. This past week’s Gospel lesson was a parable from St. Matthew: that of the sower, casting seeds randomly. The Gospel writer noted the majority of seeds failed to bear a lasting yield – but those that were sown on good soil yielded “in one case a hundred fold, in another sixty, and another thirty.” Despite those many seeds sown where they did not succeed, the crop in the aggregate yielded many more seeds than had been sown in the first place.

My favorite interpretation of this parable has in common a lesson also found in the movie, “Pay It Forward.” The readership of The Edgefield Advertiser are, in many ways, more fortunate and far better off than many others in our state, not to mention across the nation at large. Some Americans are much better off than we are, but not that many considering how many there are less well off. The seeds of knowledge and of perhaps affluence or at least of adequacy that were scattered in our direction have done well, and we have done well as a result. In the parable, the “yield” was not only the crop that was available for consumption, but importantly it included the seeds for the next generation of crops. We, you and I, are implicitly charged with thankfulness for our good fortune – which has not just been “given” to us but for which we have had to work hard during our lifetimes, or during whatever portion of our lifetimes we may have lived up to this point. But we are charged with more than thankfulness. We are also charged to become the “sower of seeds” for the next generation of crops. It is not so much of a charge to decide where to sow those seeds so they will do the most efficient job, but rather a charge to do just what that first sower did: to scatter our “seeds” everywhere, even where in our only partially-knowing judgment the chances for germination are slim. That part is not up to us; our part is just to scatter the seeds as widely as we can.

As do many of my columns, this one has not only a moral call but a political one as well. Given the needs of our fellow Americans (and I include in that category both citizens and not), are the politicians we elect to represent us gathering up a fair share from those blessed with seeds – after we have eaten what we need and then some – and distributing them as the original sower did: on poor soil as well as good, among thorns and paths as well as among well-watered and fertile ground? Think of how well or how poorly we seed health care, or education (pre-K to college), or childcare to those who need it. Think about the proposed federal budget, which will surely be in the headlines later this summer. And ask yourself, are we acting as that originals sower of seeds did, with the seeds we’ve been given and have earned? How can I become a better sower of seeds? As the movie asks, am I really “paying it forward”?

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