In the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman from this past Sunday that was read in some parishes, Jesus gives an important teaching on sowing seeds and reaping harvests. The teaching has special importance for us who live in a modern, technological age that is so insistent on instant results. So easily we become resentful and discouraged when our efforts not yield quick fruits or when solutions take time.
We often take these attitudes with our spiritual life as well. Perhaps we think our progress is too slow. Perhaps we are frustrated because we have prayed for years for someone’s conversion and think that little or nothing has come of it. Yes, too often we fail to remember that there is a delay between the sowing of the seed and the reaping of the harvest. Indeed, there are usually many months that pass between them.
In our technological, instant-update, instant-download, Internet-infused culture we have lost the patient insight of the farmer. Thus, we do well to listen carefully to what Jesus teaches us about sowing and reaping.
This particular teaching comes after an interaction that Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at a well. Having had her desires clarified and having been called to conversion by Jesus, she has begun to experience the living waters that result from the dialogue and the journey she has made with Him. She leaves her water jar and runs to town joyfully to bring others to the Lord Jesus. Prior to this, Jesus’ disciples had gone into town to buy food. While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, though, the disciples return and are puzzled because it was quite uncommon for a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan woman in that modest, segregated culture. After the woman leaves, the disciples say nothing of the encounter but instead urge Jesus to have something to eat. In answer to their concerns about food, Jesus speaks about the harvest, reaping and sowing, and the need to appreciate both aspects of life:
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest (John 4:35).
Thus begins Jesus’ teaching on sowing and reaping. He reminds them of the delay between the sowing of the seed and the reaping of the harvest. And although Jesus is overjoyed to see the quick harvest (the Samaritans walking across the field toward Him), He is quick to remind the disciples of the delay between sowing and reaping.
Yes, Jesus is about to enjoy the harvest. But perhaps His mind also goes back to His many years preparing for ministry, living and working humbly in Nazareth. Perhaps He thinks of His forty days in the desert, or of His many difficult days walking throughout Galilee preaching, calling disciples, and naming apostles. Perhaps He also recalls the months of toil and difficulty, the misunderstandings and hostility of others, the slowness of the apostles to understand, the arduous journey to Samaria, and the long conversation with the Samaritan woman in the heat of the day.
The sowing of the seed was but the beginning. Great labor and time were required for the harvest to be realized.
But now the harvest is here, and how glorious it looks as the Samaritans in their white robes come across the field toward Him!
Jesus goes on to say,
For here the saying is verified that “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work (Jn 4:37-38).
This is another very important lesson about sowing and reaping. We often sow seeds that we ourselves will not be able to reap—others will. Conversely, we sometimes reap the harvests of the seeds that others have sown and tended.
As a priest, I most often walk into buildings that I did not build and minister to congregations that I did not found; others have done this work, and I am grateful for everything I harvest as a result of their hard work. In my last assignment, I built a 5.5 million dollar building for young people. No sooner was the paint dry than I was transferred. Now others are yielding the harvest in that building that I struggled to build. But praise the Lord, it is bearing fruit!
At the rectory, it is not uncommon for the doorbell to ring and for someone I do not know to ask to speak to me. Some years ago, an older man came to the rectory in just that way and told me that his wife of 47 years had recently died. She had always prayed for him to be baptized, but he had always refused. Now that she was dead, somehow he knew it was finally time for him to be baptized. He asked me to prepare him. I joyfully reaped the harvest of seeds I did not sow. His wife had sowed those seeds and watered them with her tears. She did not live to see the harvest in this world, but in fact this was the harvest she had prayed and worked for. Shortly after his baptism, the man died. And now they both enjoy the harvest.
Never give up. Harvests come, but there is time between the sowing of the seeds and the reaping of the harvest. Too many today are easily discouraged by any delay, any separation in time between the sowing and the harvesting. But we must learn to accept this delay; any harvest takes time.
Many also do not like the hard work of planting seeds. They prefer only to reap harvests. But of course life does not work that way. Scripture says, A man will only reap what he sows. Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor 9:6). Scripture also speaks of the difficulty in sowing seeds: Going they went and wept, casting their seeds. But the same verse says this of the harvest: they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves (Ps 126:6).
In this Gospel, the Lord teaches us not to be discouraged. There is some delay between the sowing of the season and the reaping of the harvest. While Jesus refers to it as a delay of four months, we all know that it is sometimes much longer. The point is that there is some delay. Indeed, we may not even live to see the fruits of some of the seeds we sow. But we must also realize that we often reap the harvests of those before us who did not live to see the fruits of the seeds they sowed.
Scripture says, And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal 6:9). Another passage says, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6-8).
Do your work; leave the harvest to God and the one to whom He assigns it.
This section of the movie The Color Purple is an allegory of the Samaritan woman bringing the townsfolk to see Jesus: