Scripture:When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)
Reflection:Three metaphors are used in the short passage above to communicate the truth that people are ready to be brought into God’s kingdom. The first metaphor compares people to sheep. Sheep are very dumb animals; that is why they need some kind of shepherd – human, alpaca, dog – to help them stay together, find pasture, and locate water. If the reader thinks the metaphor is an insult to people, then he or she is correct! However, there is more insult contained in the metaphor; human shepherds were considered to be societal outcasts and unclean in Jesus’s world. They pastured their sheep on other people’s land, were physically dirty, and smelled of sheep.
The second metaphor employed by the Matthean Jesus is fruit. People are like fruit awaiting the harvesters. When fruit – apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, etc. – is ripe, it must be picked and stored in some way before it begins to rot. Otherwise, the point of planting and growing is wasted. So, the Matthean Jesus, through his words and deeds, has caused the human fruit to ripen; the disciples are given the task of harvesting people for God’s kingdom. In other words, people are ready to be picked.
The third metaphor used by the Matthean Jesus is that of laborer. A laborer is one who works for another. Seeing the overwhelming harvest awaiting attention, Jesus tells his disciples to pray that God will send more laborers to gather in the harvest for his kingdom. This laborer metaphor evokes the fishing metaphor at the beginning of the gospel; Jesus tells Peter and Andrew, Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.
A spirituality of mission must include harvesting. It makes no difference what metaphor is used to describe it – sheep, fruit, laborer – because the results are the same. Once a follower of Jesus is called, listens and believes, leaves all, is commissioned, sent, freed from worry, and given a purpose, he or she has compassion on those who believe and harvests them for God’s kingdom. No time can be wasted. If they are not shepherded, the people will wander away. If they are not picked while they are ripe, the people will deteriorate in the field. If additional laborers are not sought, the work of the kingdom will not be finished.
Journal/Meditation:In what ways are you like a sheep? Like fruit? Like a laborer?
Prayer: Lord of the harvest, the yield of believers is plentiful, but the workers are few. In your mercy send more laborers among your people to guide them and to pick their plentiful fruit. Grant that I may be a worthy servant in your kingdom, where you live and reign with your Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.