“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Gal. 6.7-10 NRSV)
As you sow, so shall you reap.
This is a common saying, familiar to many. It is here in this epistle, a letter written by the apostle Paul to a church in Galatia in the first century CE. It is an echo from a passage in Job 4:8 in the Hebrew Scriptures, and Proverbs 22:8, where the wisdom we are taught is that “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail” (NRSV).
You can hear the clear warning ringing out with this phrase; in fact, I will confess that it feels a bit like a lecture, with a finger wagging. I have heard it said about people in my community, when their bad choices catch up to them, or an arrogant person suffers a fall into humility. I don’t like it, and when the scripture passage above shows up in the regular schedule of Bible readings for Sunday worship, I tend to avoid it.
And yet, the wisdom is there. Despite a human tendency to use scripture to hold judgment over others, the wisdom imbedded in the saying that we reap will we sow holds. Where we sow division and hatred, there grows further division and hatred. Where we sow healing, compassion, and community, there we harvest even more healing, compassion, and community.
When I reflect on the passage in Galatians in light of the ecological crisis, I am convicted by all that the human community has sown and is now reaping. We have clearcut forests, and so have released greenhouse gases into the air, disturbed soils, wetlands and peat, reduced habitats. We reap what we sow. We have overfished throughout the world, and so have disrupted aquatic ecosystems, significantly depleted stocks of fish, damaged coastlines, led to a loss of significant marine life, and more. We reap what we sow. We have released fossil fuel emissions at rising rates, despite all that we know about global warming, and have caused permanent and rising climate change that is wreaking havoc all over the world. Indeed, we reap what we sow.
The good news is that we not only have the admonishment of this phrase that is captured in the scripture reading above. Paul takes it and goes further. He says, “if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right…let us work for the good of all…”
In other words, where we have sown disruptions in the ecosystems around us, we can instead sow healing and reparation. Where we have sown dangerous warming of the climate, we can instead sow climate mitigation. Where we have sown habitat loss, soil contamination, and deforestation, we can instead sow recovery efforts, reforestation, and so much more. We can choose to sow Earth healing. In doing so, we will reap a world that gets turned around; a world with restored habitats, a stabilization of climate, renewed waterways, and more. We will reap transformed relationships between ourselves and the Earth community of which we are part.
Concrete ecological actions in this vein are ways of sowing in the Spirit. They are ways of working for the good of all, for the entire Earth community. Paul is reminding us that when we work together in sowing in the Spirit, in working for the good of all, we will not grow weary. Instead of hearing “what you sow, so shall you reap” and feeling the judgment that so often comes with it, let us hear the concern, the clarion call, and most especially, the invitation to sow healing and restoration for this world that we love, this world that God made, and called good.
May it be so. Thanks be to God.