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Harvest 2014

I may have been almost eleven when I took part in my first harvest. John, whose dad worked on the local farm and whose mum was unofficial leader of the local women invited me to go pea-picking. The tractor came past the door and I climbed onto the trailer among hardy tanned women who were prepared for a full day’s hard work in the fields. John and I were out for some fun and to hopefully earn a shilling or two. Not that I had any idea what a pea plant looked like or of how difficult a full day would be. I remember still the smell of fresh earth and leaves, the glossy waxy feel of the pods and the special squeaky sound they made as they were pushed down into the green netted sacks – the trips to the tractor with a sack that to my eyes would be full enough but which a vigorous shake by the famer would show otherwise and being sent back to properly fill the bag before it could be exchanged for any silver coins at all. How too you were constrained to remain on the designated row as the farmer sought to maximise his yield. There was no picking of only low hanging fruit even if to my unpractised eyes there were no peas in sight! And I remember too the magnificence of the women who could pick with both hands and who would fill a sack it seemed in the twinkling of an eye.

Even in this arable part of Bedfordshire I feel remote from the harvest, it seems too mechanised, too industrial, too noisy. The seasons of peas, potatoes, strawberries and apples marked the year in my village and the gathering in an important part of the local economy. People picked carefully, their reputation depended on it, and a good harvest meant more income for them and some luxuries on the table.

In the country of Palestine in Jesus’ time the harvest involved many in the community. Towards the feast of the Passover the fields would become white with the promise of harvest, the barley and a little later the wheat would be harvested by hand with a sickle. The law gave the poor the right to glean, to follow along behind the reapers collecting any missed grain. (You may remember the story of Ruth who gleaned in Boaz’s fields.) In Leviticus, the book of the law we read this:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you hall not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave those for the poor and for the alien. I am the LORD your God.”

Yes, the harvest was for everyone. On fine dry days the corn was spread out on the threshing floor, situated some way out of the village often on a small height so that there would be a little wind later for the winnowing. A husking sledge would be drawn over the cut corn by oxen and in Deuteronomy and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we read: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out grain,” for they too had a right to share in the harvest.

There is a sense in both these examples, of Palestine and of my boyhood countryside that the bounty of the harvest is to be shared. (Even with the ox) For though the farmer may own the field, may have worked to plough it, have fertilised it, have taken precautions against pests and diseases, the pea-pod or the fruit or the grain needed something else: It needed God’s blessing of creation to make it. And God’s blessing is for everyone.

Perhaps it is harder for us to see this in the aisles of Sainsbury’s but here in the aisles of St. Margaret’s we can give our thanks to God for the land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in the valleys and the hills, a land of wheat and barley, a land where we lack nothing and as we do so let us remember that the harvest is for all and let us take great joy in sharing its abundance and goodness with those less fortunate.


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