And it came about that owners no longer worked on their farms. They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it, remembered only what they gained and lost by it. And some of the farms grew so large that one man could not even conceive of them any more, so large that it took batteries of bookkeepers to keep track of interest and gain and loss; chemists to test the soil, to replenish; straw bosses to see that the stooping men were moving along the rows as swiftly as the material of their bodies could stand.
~John Steinbeck, from The Grapes of Wrath
Land ownership has always been the seat of one man’s power over another, and for John Steinbeck it also represented a moral litmus test. What spiritual right does a human being have to starve another man to death by denying him the ability to work land to feed his family? Does the good stewardship practice of crop rotation mean it is permissible for the greater good, even if it costs current lives? Does ownership mean a man can allow fertile ground to remain fallow while a starving, able-bodied man looks on?
When Jesus said “the meek shall inherit the earth” He was quoting scripture. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say is in Psalm 37. The ethics of possession are anchored in stewardship. Understanding stewardship begins with the realization that we don’t actually own anything, including the breath currently filling our lungs. Everything is a gift – including life, and not everyone who received it yesterday was granted it today. The Psalm says “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright, for the future of that man is peace.”
Let this Psalm be your meditation today.
1 Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.
9 For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the LORD,
They shall inherit the earth.
10 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.
11 But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
12 The wicked plots against the just,
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
13 The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword
And have bent their bow,
To cast down the poor and needy,
To slay those who are of upright conduct.
15 Their sword shall enter their own heart,
And their bows shall be broken.
16 A little that a righteous man has
Is better than the riches of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
But the LORD upholds the righteous.
18 The LORD knows the days of the upright,
And their inheritance shall be forever.
19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time,
And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
20 But the wicked shall perish;
And the enemies of the LORD,
Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish.
Into smoke they shall vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows and does not repay,
But the righteous shows mercy and gives.
22 For those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth,
But those cursed by Him shall be cut off.
23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the LORD upholds him with His hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old;
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken,
Nor his descendants begging bread.
26 He is ever merciful, and lends;
And his descendants are blessed.
27 Depart from evil, and do good;
And dwell forevermore.
28 For the LORD loves justice,
And does not forsake His saints;
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
And dwell in it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom,
And his tongue talks of justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
None of his steps shall slide.
32 The wicked watches the righteous,
And seeks to slay him.
33 The LORD will not leave him in his hand,
Nor condemn him when he is judged.
34 Wait on the LORD,
And keep His way,
And He shall exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
35 I have seen the wicked in great power,
And spreading himself like a native green tree.
36 Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
Indeed I sought him, but he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright;
For the future of that man is peace.
38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together;
The future of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
He is their strength in the time of trouble.
40 And the LORD shall help them and deliver them;
He shall deliver them from the wicked,
And save them,
Because they trust in Him.
Dig Deeper – The Grapes of Wrath
In telling the story of the plight of one Oklahoma family, John Steinbeck immortalized the Great Depression in his Nobel Prize-winning epic The Grapes of Wrath.
The bank has foreclosed on the Joad homestead and forced them off land they’d farmed since the 1889 land run. With only a car converted into a truck for transportation, they sell most of what they own at bargain-basement prices. Flyers announce work for all in California. They could eat fruit dropped from trees and get a piece of land to start over again. Along with thousands of others, they escape the Dust Bowl down Route 66.
By the time they arrive in the “promised land,” all they have left was spare change and the last of the pork they killed before leaving home. They don’t worry, though; they are willing to work hard. The bitter truth hits home as they move from one migrant camp to another. Out of desperation, tens of thousands have traveled west, and now there are more workers here than jobs. Soon, the Joads, along with everyone else in “Hooverville,” are starving.
Tom Joad, an ex-convict who broke parole when he left Oklahoma, kills a strike breaker then decides to leave his family before he brings trouble on them. When his ma asks when she’ll see him again, he tells her, “Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there…. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.”
Jesus said much the same thing in Matthew 25. At the judgment, nations will be divided into sheep and goats. The standard of judgment? Their treatment of the Lord. Did they feed Him when He was hungry or give Him water when He was thirsty? Perplexed, they will ask, “When did we see You, Lord?”
Jesus will answer, “When you did it for one of the least of these.”
Tom Joad all over again. When hunger strikes, we must do something to help. Every time we do, we are feeding the Lord.
Barbour Publishing Inc, Book Lover’s Devotional (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour, 2011).