By Rev. Everette Chapman
Ecclesiastes 11:1 instructs, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days it will return to you.” This verse, suggestive of sailing biscuits across a pond and winding up with soggy bread, actually speaks of the sowing of rice upon a paddy submerged in the receding waters of a spring rain. One broadcasts the seed, and trusts God and the good earth to produce grain and provide food from it.
We all do it, don’t we, this “casting our bread” thing? We do something for someone, not expecting anything in return. One day, out of the clear blue, we hear from that person, who tells of the tremendous difference we made in his life. Our “cast bread” has “returned to us.” It happens to teachers and nurses a lot and others of you as well. May I share a story?
His name was Fleming, and he worked constantly to grub out a living for his family on a poor Scottish farm. One day, while working hard, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the quicksand-like morass, finding there a terrified lad, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming rescued the boy from a slow, terrifying death and sent him on his way.
The next day, a fancy carriage showed up at the Scotsman’s meager home. An elegantly-dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the youngster whose life Farmer Fleming had saved. “I have come to repay you,” said the nobleman, “for you saved my son.” Farmer Fleming waved off the offer of a reward, insisting, “I cannot accept payment for what I did; it was only right.”
Just then, the farmer’s own son appeared in the cottage doorway. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. Mr. Fleming proudly affirmed that it was. “Then I’ll tell you what I will do. Let me give your son an excellent education. If he is anything like his father, he’ll grow up to make you proud.
It was agreed. The nobleman did see to the education of the farmer’s son. In time, that young man graduated from St. Mary’s Medical School in London. He had a brilliant career in medicine and went on to become known throughout the world. He was Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered Penicillin, which has saved millions of lives. That is not, however, “the rest of the story.”
Years later, the same son of that nobleman, once rescued from the bog by Farmer Fleming, was stricken with pneumonia and was facing death. Again, however, he was kept alive, this time by the penicillin discovered by Farmer Fleming’s son. Now, “the rest of the story.”
That nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His illustrious, twice-spared, son? Sir Winston Churchill, without whose stalwart leadership World War II could well have been lost. As I recently watched the movie, “Darkest Hour,” about Winston Churchill’s courageous role in the leadership of Great Britain and the Allied Forces during that horrible conflict, I couldn’t help but remember this story and give thanks to God for his wondrous watch care over both Alexander Fleming and Winston Churchill in that serendipitous arrangement of human circumstances.
“Cast your bread upon the water; after many days it will return to you.” We simply give and do and share and heal and encourage and do whatever we are called upon to do in the name of goodness, compassion, and all good virtues, and we leave to God to give meaning and success to them. That’s what that verse means.