Looking for Loopholes
by Pastor George Van Alstine

A friend reportedly caught W.C. Fields, early movie comedian and self-proclaimed atheist, reading a Bible and asked in surprise, “What are you doing?” Reportedly, Fields’ response was “Looking for loopholes.”

This is tax season, and for the next three months some of us will be perusing IRS documents looking for loopholes, ways in which we can find some reduction in the taxes we owe. Unless we try some things that are bold and dishonest, we’ll probably find little wiggle room. And if we claim questionable exemptions or deductions, we risk getting caught and paying lots more than we hoped to save.

We’re all trying to find short cuts, easier ways to make it than hard work and following the rules. That’s what keeps Las Vegas afloat. One slot machine celebrating the payout of a jackpot with loud bells and alarms will keep hundreds of poor slobs in that casino dropping their hard-earned money, against great odds, for the rest of the night. And the guy who won the jackpot will probably foolishly “reinvest” it before the sun comes up.

Jesus probably would have used Vegas gambling to illustrate this point in a parable, but he lived 2000 years before the one-armed bandit was invented. He preached and taught in a small rural community, so he found his illustrations in the labor-intensive farming that was done on the hillsides near where he lived. About one-fourth of Jesus’ parables recorded in the Gospels are about farming crops, and they all seem to emphasize that you have to follow the rules to get the results. For instance:

● The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:10-20) points out that a good farmer is careful to plant his precious seed only in deep, fertile soil, not wasting any in rocky areas or among thorns.

● The Parable of the Good Tree (Luke 6:43-45) underlines the fact that some plants have more potential than others and many inferior ones are not worth the time and effort of cultivation.

● The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32) reminds us that you can’t anticipate the size of the plant or of the crop based on the size of the seed. The farmer has to know his plants.

● The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) makes it clear that the farmer needs to respect the natural progression of growth, rather than trying to rush or force the process.

There’s a folk saying, of unknown origin: “Too many people sow their wild oats on Saturday night; then on Sunday morning they pray for a crop failure.” Well, my friends, don’t count on that prayer being answered.