a new year of new living: the landowner

I wrote this parable more than 15 years ago, and happened to share it this past Sunday. On the heels of my previous two posts, here is something to read and ponder in your own life.

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The Landowner

A man naively and arrogantly purchased a new house. It was on an expansive piece of useful farmland, which he reasoned was an impressive addition to the great deal he had haggled for on the house. All of this on paper seemed like a great idea... except this man was a businessman and not a farmer.
 This new landowner decided to use his free time to work out in the fields. He got up early on the first Saturday morning he had free because he'd heard that’s what farmers do. With a canvas bag of tools over his left shoulder and a “Farming For Dummies” book in his right hand, the man walked out into the farmland like a quarterback about to take the field.

Four hours and four-hundred callouses later, the man determined "that" was enough "of that."

So the great piece of land sat out there, empty and barren. Each day the man would get up to go to work and drive past its expansive emptiness. A nagging guilt set in, for as a businessman he knew it was more than a wasted field - it was a wasted profit.

Perhaps that's why one day he sat down and devised a new plan to put the immense field to productive use. He divided the land into several slots to rent to outsiders needing a place to plant their items. They would pay back to the him, the landowner, a percentage of the profits they made. It seemed like the perfect plan to address the depression of the undeveloped property.

That is, it "seemed" like the perfect plan. The man still didn’t understand the finer aspects of farming, including the aspects that involved large machinery. He inadvertently divided each section of land in such a way that the various farmers had to literally plow over another farmer’s section to get to their own.

No one realized this at first, as they only knew where their boundaries ended and assumed that paths had been laid out for such an issue. Eventually it all came to a head and fights became common. Farmers that had to get to their areas in the middle would trudge over the other farmers’ areas, and those farmers would react by spitefully doing the same to the middle farmers’ land in order to “get even.”

That year yielded very little in terms of crops. The farmers couldn’t get past their own demands, didn’t want to replant the prospective crops, and consequently gained no profit... a hard financial loss felt very much by the landowner... who eventually called the project a failure. With a complete sense of defeat, he reasoned he’d have to find a way to learn to live with the guilt of a failed project that would stare him in the face every day.

That is, until the day when the old farmer came, knocking on his door step.

“Son,” he said, “Looks to me like you have a problem managing your fields.”

“You’re telling me!” said the man. “It’s just not worth my time.”

“What if I promised you that it was?” hinted the old man. “You could make more than an adequate share of profit by following my plan. That land out there that’s wasting away because you don’t know how to handle it... doesn’t have to.”

This sounded rather interesting to the man, as he was indeed tired of seeing things go to waste. But as all “sharp” businessmen must ask, naturally so did he: “What’s the catch?”

“Well, ‘the catch’ is simply this... you turn land ownership over to me, and I will let you live on the property for free, take care of all expenses, and share with you a profit so great that it will revolutionize the way you live.”

The man waited for a laugh that never came to what he presumed had to be a joke. “Are you kidding me?” asked the man. “You actually expect me to give up MY land for some profit that I can’t see? What if I don’t gain anything? I’ll have lost my property over some bad deal! You must be crazy...”

“I’m not finished,” interrupted the old farmer, “You can cancel the deal at any time. But if you do, you gain nothing except the land back. This is the only condition: you gain no profit by canceling... just the land again, to deal with all over on your own.”

Maybe it was the exhaustion of his failure, or maybe there was something genuine about the farmer. For whatever reason, the man found himself surprised that he was even thinking about it. “So let me get this straight... I give you the land, and I get a huge profit on anything you make on it. But if I change my mind at any time, I get back the land and just lose any ‘profit’ you might make?”

The farmer smiled, “Son, it’s not profit ‘I might make’; it’s profit ‘We will make’.”

"You'll put this in writing?"

"I sure will. But you also have my word."

And as the man looked at the old farmer, he knew there was more to this man than age. There was experience, and confidence out of that experience. “You know what,” said the man, “I have no clue how you're going to do it, and maybe that's why I'm even considering this. With your escape clause, I see no way that I can lose. Besides, you probably know more about farming than I do and can squeeze a few bucks out of this place. Okay... it’s a deal.”

It wasn’t too long before what was a torn and battered field once again became a clean, fertile opportunity for growth. The businessman kept an eye out, and would watch how every day the farmer would come and invest his time tending the fields. At first the business man was skeptical, all the while noting on paper what sorts of changes the farmer was making. Yet the more he looked each day, the more he saw that the field was being shaped into the best it could be, most likely, he assumed, because it was being shaped by the best hands.

When it came time for harvest, the business man anxiously awaited to see what sort of profit he had gained by this investment. And when he did... he was shocked.

“All of it?” he asked. “What do you mean I get to keep all of it?”

The farmer smiled. “I mean that you get to keep all of it, son. All the profits, every harvest... it’s all yours.”

“But that’s incredible! This is more than enough!”

“I know,” shared the farmer. “That was the idea.”

“So what do you get?” asked the man. “Don’t tell me you did all of this for nothing.”

“I’ll tell you something,” said the farmer, “I do gain something. I gain seeing a beautiful piece of property not go to waste. Don’t take this the wrong way, but son... you were destroying this property.”

“No offense taken,” he said.

“Good,” the farmer continued, “because I love farming. I do it well. And after you let me invest myself into developing this land, I was able to take it from a burden to a blessing. There’s nothing like doing what you were created to do because you’re being who you were created to be.”

The business man was amazed. “I have no idea what you mean. I mean, I do... but I've just never known that kind of fulfillment. Just tell me one thing, though... why did you have to take ownership of the land? Couldn’t you just have asked me to hire you? I know I’ve gained so much, but I still don’t get why I had to give up the land.”

The farmer smiled his familiar smile and said, “Son, if I didn’t own the land, the harvest wouldn’t have been even half of what it was.”

Puzzled, the man asked, “Why is that?”

“Son, if I didn’t own it, I couldn’t freely make the adjustments I’d need to in order to shape it up. I’d have to keep checking in with you, asking you if it was okay to make decisions you know nothing about. You’d keep poking your head in, and son... we both know you’re not a farmer.”

“Alright, alright,” said the man. “Just tell me how I can pay you back. You’ve given me way too much for me to just sit around and not do anything for you.”

And with that question, the farmer knew his work had not been wasted. For it was not a field that he had been tending to, but a man’s heart. Every day that he labored out in the fields to produce a profit he would not claim was another day spent ripening the soil of this man’s soul. And the harvest of this kind of crop, a willing heart, would yield more than anything he could produce out in the field.

So with a tender spirit, the old farmer answered the man’s question. “Son, I’m a farmer. I help get peoples’ fields in order. You’re a business man... you help get peoples’ business in order. You have skills and gifts the Lord gave you that others need, just as I had the skills and gifts that you needed. Son, now that your fields are straightened out, you go love your neighbor and help him with what you do best.”

The farmer smiled, turned and walked out of the house whistling a familiar tune.

The man... well, you know what he did.

Because it's what you would do.

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