Rabbi Todd Chizner, Bishop Lionel Harvey and The Rev. Nancy...

Rabbi Todd Chizner, Bishop Lionel Harvey and The Rev. Nancy Rakoczy. Credit: Chizner family photo; Joshua Rivers; Rev. Nancy Rakoczy

A familiar Bible passage asks believers to “cast your bread upon the waters/for you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11) This week’s clergy discuss how to interpret that oft-quoted advice.

Rabbi Todd Chizner

Temple Judea, Manhasset

Never before have I given much thought to this particular verse in Ecclesiastes. I may have overlooked it because it feels out of character for the author. It sounds too positive for the same one who wrote “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-8) and “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) One of the appeals of the book of Ecclesiastes over the centuries has been its unvarnished take on life and, at times, its outright cynicism. If Ecclesiastes was being true to form when he wrote this verse, his words would need to be read with sarcasm. In this way, he is mocking the notion that if we put good (in this case bread) into the world, it will eventually come back to us by the forces of the universe (in this case water). As we know from life, sometimes this can appear to happen and sometimes not. However, there is a chance that he wasn’t being sarcastic. In the very end of the book, Ecclesiastes admits that even if we can’t always make sense of things that happen to us, nonetheless we should follow God’s laws. My faith insists on living with this principle and so, in truth, I tend to put as much goodness out there as possible. If it comes back to me, great. If it doesn’t come back to me, but someone or something else benefited? Also great!

Bishop Lionel Harvey

First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury  

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” A key principle of our walk with God is a faith that requires us to release whatever we are holding on to and surrender it to God. We trust Him to provide the things we need. Although we don’t know when, where or how, we do know and believe God will work it out, for our good and for His glory. James 2:17 says that faith not accompanied by action is dead. Ecclesiastes is letting us know that we are to give of our time, talent and treasure — in essence our bread — as we take a journey of faith. We don’t know what the outcome may be. Waters can be rough, troubled and stormy. In casting our bread upon water, we trust that it shall not be lost, but that we will reap blessings and benefits for ourselves and for others. So many have become frustrated, angry and bitter. If we learned to cast love, financial charity, compassion, understanding and tolerance upon the waters, imagine the return we could realize and the impact that could have on humankind!

The Rev. Nancy Rakoczy

Visiting clergy on Long Island and Queens, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

Water is notoriously fickle. It’s powerful, like the ocean’s tsunamis, or it can be meek as a puddle. Water can wash away whole towns, yet it sustains life. Water, in its dual role, symbolizes the unsettled nature of our lives, and how we can be propelled into disastrous situations like illness, hunger, unemployment or homelessness. This verse says to not just embrace the changeable nature of our lives, but to trust God’s bounty in the midst of uncertainties. Not just when it’s easy, but to trust God in the midst of life’s storms as well. We know we are trusting God when we are generous, as symbolized by the bread of the text. When we experience difficulties, our inclination is to withdraw into ourselves, and tune out the rest of the world. “Casting our bread” is the opposite of alienation; it implies a continued engagement with life and the larger community. We unclench our hand and open it to our neighbor. We trust that we will reap a bounty in the future, implying that life’s storms will not sweep us away permanently, and God’s grace will help us endure and prosper.

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