Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.
Palestine was a land of small peasant proprietors, and the institution of the Jubilee was intended to prevent the acquisition of large estates by any Israelite. The consequence, as intended, was a level of modest prosperity. It was "the tillage of the poor," the careful, diligent husbandry of the man who had only a little patch of land to look after, that filled the storehouses of the Holy Land. Hence the proverb of our text arose. In all work it is true that the bulk of the harvested results are due, not to the large labours of the few, but to the minute, unnoticed toils of the many. Small service is true service, and the aggregate of such produces large crops. Spade husbandry gets most out of the ground. Much may be made of slender gifts, small resources, and limited opportunities if carefully calculated. This text is a message to ordinary, mediocre people, without much ability or influence.
I. It teaches THE RESPONSIBILITY OF SMALL GIFTS. It is no mere accident that in our Lord's great parable He represents the man with the one talent as the hider of his gift. There is a certain pleasure in the exercise of any kind of gift, be it of body or mind; but when we know that we are but very slightly gifted by Him, there is a temptation to say, " Oh, it does not matter much whether I contribute my share to this, that, or the other work or no. I am but a poor man. My half-crown will make but a small difference in the total. I am possessed of very little leisure. The few minutes that I can spare for individual cultivation, or for benevolent work, will not matter at all. I am only an insignificant unit; nobody pays any attention to my opinion. It does not in the least signify whether I make my influence felt in regard of social, religious, or political questions, and the like. I can leave all that to the more influential men. It is a good deal easier for me to wrap up this talent — which, after all, is only a threepenny-bit, and not a talent, — and put it away and do nothing." Yes, but then you forget that there is a great responsibility for the use of the smallest, as there is for the use of the largest, and that although it did not matter very much what you do to anybody but yourself, it matters all the world to you. But then, beside that, my text tells you that it does matter whether the poor man sets himself to make the most of his little patch of ground or not. "There is much food in the tillage of the poor." The slenderly endowed are the immense majority. The great men and wise men and mighty men and wealthy men may be counted by units, but the men that are not very much of anything are to be counted by millions. And unless we can find some stringent law of responsibility that applies to them, the bulk of the human race will be under no obligation to do anything either for God or for their fellows, or for themselves. Let me remind you, too, how the same virtues and excellences can be practised in the administering of the smallest, as in that of the greatest gifts. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." If you do not utilise the capacity possessed you increase the crop of weeds from its uncultivated clods. We never palm off a greater deception on ourselves than when we try to hoodwink conscience by pleading narrow gifts as an excuse for boundless indolence, and to persuade ourselves that if we could do more we should be less inclined to do nothing. All service coming from the same motive and tending to the same end is the same with God.
II. But now, note again HOW THERE MUST BE DILIGENT CULTIVATION OF THE SMALL GIFTS. The inventor of this proverb had looked carefully and sympathetically at the way in which the little peasant proprietors worked; and he saw in that a pattern for all life. There will usually be little waste time, and few neglected opportunities of working in the case of the peasant whose subsistence, with that of his family, depends on the diligent and wise cropping of the little patch that does belong to him. And so if you and I have to take our place in the ranks of the two-talented men, the commonplace run of ordinary people, the more reason for us to enlarge our gifts by a sedulous diligence, by a keen look-out for all opportunities of service, and above all by a prayerful dependence upon Him from whom alone comes the power to toil, and who alone gives the increase. The less we are conscious of large gifts the more we should be bowed in dependence on Him from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, and the more earnestly should we use that slender possession which God may have given us. Industry applied to small natural capacity will do far more than larger power rusted away by sloth. Who are they who have done the most in this world for God and for men? The largely endowed men? "Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble are called." The coral insect is microscopic, but it will build up from the profoundest depth of the ocean a reef against which the whole Pacific may dash in vain. It is the small gifts that, after all, are the important ones. So let us cultivate them the more earnestly, the more humbly we think of our own capacity. "Play well thy part; there all the honour lies." God, who has builded up some of the towering Alps out of mica flakes, builds up His Church out of infinitesimally small particles — slenderly endowed men touched by the consecration of His love.
III. Lastly, let me remind you of THE HARVEST REAPED FROM THESE SLENDER GIFTS WHEN SEDULOUSLY TILLED. Two great results of such conscientious cultivation and use of small resources and opportunities may be suggested as included in that abundant "food" of which the text speaks. The faithfully used faculty increases. To him that "hath shall be given." "Oh, if I had a wider sphere how I would flame in it, and fill it." Then twinkle your best in your little sphere, and that will bring a wider one some time or other. Fill your place; and if you, like Paul, have borne witness for the Master in little Jerusalem, He will not keep you there, but carry you to bear witness for Him in imperial Rome itself.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.