Homeless people, carrying clever signs, standing at strategic intersections where cars stop for a red light — this has become part of the landscape in Pasadena, as in every urban center in the U.S. As I’m sitting in my car behind a few other vehicles waiting for the light to change, I’ve noticed that usually one of the drivers ahead of me will open the window and hand out some money. I don’t. You see, I’ve thought through my benevolence response to the needs around me, and I try to donate to individuals and agencies with whom I’m familiar and will have ongoing, hands-on relationships. But that doesn’t keep me from feeling a little pang of guilt as I keep my window rolled up and study a sign across the street to avoid eye contact.
So the other day, I was probably the fourth car in line, and the light had just changed to green, when the guy in front of me suddenly opened the window, shoved a dollar in the woman’s hand, and quickly accelerated to enter the intersection. I noticed that his car was even older than mine, so I concluded he might not be more than a paycheck from homelessness himself. The fact that he waited until the last second to make his donation told me that he had probably gone through his own little struggle of conscience before he gave up his precious dollar. I identified with him. I was glad that I was protected by my well-thought-out benevolence policy so that I didn’t have to feel guilty. But I did anyway.
As I was driving away from the intersection, a Sunday School song came to my mind, and I found myself humming a line or two. I’m sure I hadn’t thought of this song for more than fifty years, but the imprint of its message was very clear in my mind:
Oh scatter seeds of loving deeds Along the fertile field;
For grain will grow from what you sow,
A fruitful harvest yield.
Then day by day, along your way,
The seeds of promise cast;
That ripened grain from hill and plain
Be gathered home at last. *
It was the “scattering” idea that stuck in my mind. It seems so random, arbitrary, unprogrammed, wasteful. But it also seemed very Jesus-like. I think I remember a picture of him as a rural farmer walking through a field with an open bag of seed, and he was just scattering it everywhere by hand.
I was a student at Fuller Seminary in 1958, and after my first term, I went back east to New Jersey for Christmas (and to become engaged to a gorgeous young woman named Judy Gold). After the holidays, my family drove me to New York’s Grand Central Station to catch a bus for the first leg of my trip back to Pasadena. As I was waiting , I witnessed a nearby drama. A woman with two little children was not being allowed on a bus for which she was ticketed because her youngest had a dirty diaper, and she had no time to change it. As her bus drove off, she cried helplessly. I tried to help, but she spoke no English and I no Spanish. It was bitter cold in the open-air terminal, and the kids had no adequate clothing, so I went into my suitcase and found two sweaters. She gratefully put them on the children.
I went to nearby concession booths until I found a storekeeper who spoke English and Spanish. I brought her over and asked him to help her. I wanted to witness to her — at least to say, “I give you the sweaters in the name of Jesus” — but my own bus was now on its final boarding, and I had to run.
I guess I was just “scattering seed” wastefully. But then, God is the “Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38), and who knows what sweater-crop might have sprung up!
* Written by Jesse Brown Pounds (1861-1921), who was a pastor’s wife in Ohio. Among her many other songs, those that are still sung today include “Anywhere with Jesus I can Safely Go,” “The Way of the Cross Leads Home” and “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.”)