By Frank Wessling
God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. We are told this in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter five. So, when the rain doesn’t fall at all, what’s going on?
Is God not paying attention to us, just or unjust as we might be?
As this is written, the news is heavy with concern about drought across the grain-producing region of this country, including Iowa. Farmers are looking at dry fields and even cutting down some of their corn as it fails to mature.
As estimates of the total crop size fall, the price of corn futures shoots upward. Farmers with good field conditions can anticipate a bumper crop of money. Poor folks here and around the world will meet harder times as the chain of price increases hits them where they are vulnerable. For some it means squeezing everything else in the budget in order to keep food on the table. For others in poor nations which normally depend on our surplus it can mean a more desperate search for food simply to stay alive.
So there are both winners and losers from the placement of rain. It is a long, strong temptation to imagine Matthew’s words as meaning that the economic winners are the just ones. But this is surely not the spirit of those words. If the Gospel is clear about anything, it’s that the poor, the vulnerable, not the comfortable and powerful, are close to the heart of God.
If God is sensitive to the poor and hears their cry for food, we should be the same. The mercy of God calls for our cooperation however we can enter it. A beginning would be attention to the needs that become evident in conditions of scarcity, followed by an honest search for ways to be in solidarity with the people in need.
All of this is quite general and abstract, but most of us know what it means in practice. Our personal resources, our money, our time, is not for our personal use alone; not if we believe in the Gospel. When the rain fails to come, the consequences are to be shared in ways that show the mercy of God, whether that might be in our personal charity or a readiness to join in collective action through taxes and social programs.
American farmers have long had the benefit of collective mercy. They understand. We decided long ago that we would not leave them to the whims of unmerciful weather. So we use taxes and government power to mitigate the risks taken by farmers and help them reach markets for their products.
When the rain doesn’t fall, we tend to pray that it resume falling. Before doing that, perhaps we should consider the lack of rain as itself a blessing: an opportunity to wake up from complacency and see our connection with everyone in need. Call it an attitude adjustment. It could be God’s way of distinguishing the just and the unjust.