Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
2 Cor. 9: 6
St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians that we read today is a familiar one to every churchgoer. It is a first century version of the plea of the chair of the parish finance committee to balance the books before the end of the fiscal year. It is a call to generosity. It’s formative potential, however, lies in the context of the plea. It claims a certain self-interest in being generous, for, as we sow so shall we reap. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 7: 2, “with the measure you use, it will be measured out to you.”
Although all this sounds to us like a contract, it is really far beyond that. It is a basic description of the reality of the universe, a reality which our rational-functional dimension is always forgetting. It is of the nature of our consciousness to perceive and so to fear scarcity rather than to realize the abundance. It is this perception that is the source of our selfishness and greed. To put it colloquially, we believe we must grab our share of the pie or else we’ll be left without any, or at best with a diminishing share. The scriptural view is quite different, however. If we were all to live with generosity toward each other, we would discover that there is more than enough for all of us, that not only would we all be fed but that, as in the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, after we all were full, there would be 12 baskets left over.
There is a strange paradox at work here. We pillage our environment in part because we fear this scarcity. We consume more of the world’s resources than we need because we fear there won’t be enough for us and all the others. The result is that we create the very scarcity we fear. On Thursday, Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change will be released. It is rumored that the context for his plea for a recognition of our need to attend to our common environment will be the effect of climate change on the poorest among us. He thus may place the call to conversion regarding our responsibility to the planet in terms of our responsibility toward each other. If we sow more bountifully toward all of our brothers and sisters, and thus change our lives accordingly, we shall reap the bounty of an earth that, when healthy, can provide for us all.
There is, of course, a political dimension to all of this. A just and ethical political response, however, depends first on the personal conversion of each of us. Can our minds and hearts change from a sense of grasping for ourselves from the scarcity, to a receiving of only what we need from the earth’s bounty – and leaving for all the others what is theirs.
At the personal level, we need to practice this conversion toward “sowing bountifully” concretely throughout the day. Do I eat when I am hungry and stop eating when I am not? Do I yield to the driver wanting to enter the line of traffic in which I have been waiting? Do I give my full attention to the one currently speaking to me, rather than thinking about what else I need to do? Do I resist purchasing and consuming things I do not need? Constantly we are confronted by our tendency to take from others what is their due, usually without realizing it. What we take to be our needs are largely phantoms of our imaginations. Living from the spirit means to wake up from these illusions and to receive with gratitude from the hand of God what we need and to leave the rest for the needs of others.
Despite the fact that we almost always stress the content of our thoughts, when we wake up, we wake up to the reality of life and make this reality our center of gravity. It is at this time that we clearly realize that all the desires and delusions within our thoughts are substantially nothing. When this kind of zazen experience fully becomes a part of us, even in our daily lives, we will not be carried away by the comings and goings of various images, and we will be able to wake up to our own lives and begin completely afresh from the reality of life.
Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice