My wife and I have as a part of our spiritual discipline to read the Bible through in one year. This is not as daunting as it may sound. First, when you read with a partner, just like working out, it keeps you honest about doing the reading. Second, we don’t follow a complex scheme to read. We start with Matthew 1 (the first chapter in the New Testament) on January 1, and read four chapters per day. By the beginning of March, we have finished the New Testament and move on to Genesis and then go straight through the Bible. This means that for one calendar year, we will have read the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. (Many thanks to Bob Tuttle, who turned us on to this reading plan back in seminary!)
A few days ago we were in Hosea, and I ran across this verse, which metaphorically smacked me over the head:
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. (10:12)
This comes as God, through Hosea, reprimands Israel for its lack of faith, a lack of faith that grew as their prosperity grew. Israel turned away from God and thought their blessings came either from their own striving or from worshiping their false gods and goddesses. Discipline and judgment are coming, warns the prophet, and then this verse comes.
Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness they have not only forgotten the Lord, but they have also ceased to share love and righteousness with one another. This is characteristically seen in the injunction to care for the widow, orphan and alien among them–people who could not take care of themselves. By focusing on their own lives and their own prosperity, Israel did not love others.
Their ground became fallow. It ceased to produce fruit. Sure they had produced money and land and other means of prosperity for themselves, but that is not the fruit that God wanted. It is not the love that God called them to exhibit. (Hint: this is why Jesus talks so much about love to his disciples and says the world will know them by their love for one another.)
But look at the verse. It is a hopeful call to repentance. Even now, in the midst of a warning of judgment, God is offering the Israelites a second chance. God will rain down righteousness on them, but the repentance will be painful. They have to break up the fallow ground. The ground that had ceased to produce the growth God wanted had become dry and crusted over. It must be ripped open and broken apart so that growth can come.
This gets to the heart of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. As the sower scatters the seed it falls on many different types of ground. But it is only the seed that falls on the good ground, ground that had been prepared and tilled, ground that had been broken up and made ready for planting, that produces.
This made me stop and think: where in my life and in the life of my congregation do we need to seek out the painful process of having our barrenness plowed up, the fallow ground broken open, and begin to sow righteousness once again so that we may reap steadfast love?