This morning, as I drove to work along the surface streets, avoiding the landslides and flooding in a moderately heavy rain, I found that the time I had chosen to first drop off some books at the library and then go to work after that was not an auspicious time for driving, as I found myself stopped on four different occasions by school buses, three times picking up children on the opposite side of the road and the fourth time stopping at a railroad track in the fast lane, which is a place where a school bus should almost never be. I was struck by the fact that school buses themselves have a variety of meanings depending on one’s perspective . They can be a source of comfort, an annoyance or irritation because of the delays that they bring, or any other number of meanings. My father and paternal grandfather were bus drivers, and so seeing school buses reminds me of my family background as well.
In Matthew 5:43-48, part of the Sermon on the Mount , there is a reflection that ought to remind us that rain does not mean in this passage what we often assume it to mean: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father is perfect.”
In our contemporary situation, we are used to thinking of rain as a bad thing. Rain disrupts the plans we have for the day, makes driving more dangerous, threatens flooding and landslides with their attendant damage, and so on. The cities that serve as the prime vacation spots in our civilization are places of sunny skies, with hardly a cloud in the sky. We populate desert valleys and drag in water from afar, not feeling entirely comfortable with the water being where we are because that means it will be falling from the sky. When I moved to Portland a little over three years ago, I was often asked by friends of mine who lived elsewhere if it bothered me that Portland was so rainy, and my answer has consistently been that it did not bother me, because it was the general rainy climate of Portland that kept the temperatures warm in winter and that made the area green like my Appalachian homeland.
Yet, in the language of the Bible, rain is not a bad thing at all. Both the sun that God sends for the good and the evil and the rain that God sends for the just and the unjust are good things. A farming society needs rain and sunshine in due season. Rains are needed to nourish plants while they are growing, and sunshine is needed to harvest. Without rain, the drought kills a crop and starvation threatens, especially for those who live in marginal agricultural lands like the Middle East. On the other hand, too much rain in the wrong season threatens crops with mildew and blight, as happened one memorable summer when I was a college student visiting my family’s dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania, only to find myself a witness to forty consecutive days of rain in a horrible summer. A rainy spring would not have been a bad thing, but a rainy summer made it nearly impossible to harvest the hay for our family’s cattle. The farmer takes weather conditions seriously, for in ancient Israel there was fasting in the month of Chislev if the rains had not yet arrived; it is not sunshine or rain at any time, but rain and sunshine in their proper time and season, that the farmer prays for.
Farming is a profession that is constantly aware that no matter how much hard work one has, no matter how much wisdom in crop rotation, no matter how much savvy in handling soil conditions and animals, that one depends on conditions outside of oneself. If the weather is bad, if there are pests, if an army marches through one’s farmland and steals the harvest for its own logistical needs, there is little recourse one has as a farmer except to try again next year. When God says that the sun and rain come on the just and the unjust, it means that God provides life to people who are good and evil, and if God blesses those who are good and evil, despite their unworthiness, how can we do any less? For the wicked, the blessings that are given to the wicked are something that God holds against them, as it increases the level of judgment that is merited for wickedness, and for the good, the blessings that are received now are merely the earnest payment on the blessings that will be received for all time. Let us therefore hope that if the sun shines on us and the rains come on us, both of them helping to bring and preserve life, that we will live in such a way that we are grateful for the blessings, and that they are not being added to the debt that will be held against us.
 See, for example:
 This is a passage that offers much food for thought and reflection: