ploughing on

“No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus, Luke 9: 62

We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.

We plough the fields and scatter, traditional

It would seem that traditional ploughing, in the developed nations at least, is something of a dying art. Today most ploughs are pulled by tractors.

Jesus was speaking into the agrarian context of 1st century Palestine. For us in the urbanised west such metaphors are harder to comprehend.

The harvest field is applied by Jesus as a metaphor for the harvest of souls – ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.’ (John 4: 35).

The fields are ploughed. Furrows are set in the soil for seed to be scattered. Seed of the Gospel, the word of truth. Seed that, if sown faithfully in word and action, will bear the fruit of righteousness and justice in the lives of individuals and the communities they inhabit.

Traditional ploughing has been practiced for thousands of years across different continents. The traditional plough is a wooden instrument which is pulled by a strong animal. In Old England it would have been a horse and in 1st century Palestine, an ox or a donkey.

Ploughing is always a forward action. The ploughman, or woman, drives the animal forward across the harvest field in a forward movement. What happens if the ploughman ‘looks back’? The animal and plough stop moving, or moves off in a wayward direction. A ploughman who keeps looking back wouldn’t last long in the job.

The Kingdom of God is always moving forward, even when the Church seems to have stopped or gone off at a tangent. In the words of Jesus, “…from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing” (Matthew 11: 12 NLT).

As God’s ploughmen we carve out of the soil furrows old and new. There are times when we are required to turn over and reseed ancient harvest fields, and on other occasions to harrow where no plough has gone before. Either way we are ploughing and seeding the ground for a harvest of righteousness sown in peace (James 3: 18) and looking back is not an option. We have to keep ploughing on!

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