Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7), Psalm 116:1,10-17 or (Exodus 19:2-8a, Psalm 100), Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
“It is not always granted to the sower to live to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith.” – Albert Schweitzer
Jesus says “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) What is the harvest? Who are the laborers? How does one do harvesting? Maybe we have for centuries been answering these questions in a way that would surprise Jesus. Let’s look at each question.
What is the harvest? Often the answer to this question has been that the harvest is to turn pagans into Christians. However, just before Jesus uses the analogy of “harvest” he points to the problem that needs resolution. He looks at the people and says they are harassed, helpless and like sheep with a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) The harvest work is to come to the rescue of those who are harassed. The harvest work is to aide those who are helpless. Throughout the world, even in the United States, there has been a resurgent voice of racism, bigotry and abandonment of the poor by governments and by some of the people. This has created a plentiful harvest of harassed and helpless people.
Who are the laborers? Often the answer to this question has been that the laborers are the clergy. What a narrow perspective. The clergy deserve credit, but they also at times feel harassed and helpless. Rather, the laborers are also all the others who help their neighbors. They may be non religious or even atheists. They may not believe in God, but God believes in them. Clergy would do well to team up with anyone who is working on this harvest. There are indeed even government people who are good harvesters. It is wrong to say that all politicians are not to be trusted. But, in spite of all these good people, the laborers are few because the need is so great.
How does one do harvesting? Jesus does not give us a detailed plan. However, he does give us a foundational requirement. Before Jesus mentions the harassed and helpless he has “compassion” on them. Compassion is not just feeling sorry for someone, but suffering with the person. Granted, many problems in our society are systemic. Compassion and band-aids alone will not solve them. But without compassion first we will not move forward.
The Greek word here translated “compassion” (sometimes weakly translated pity or feel sorry) actually means “bowels.” Therefore, to have compassion, literally in Greek, means to be moved in one’s bowels. In their culture the bowels or guts were considered the seat of emotions. Even the English word “compassion” means, when broken down, to suffer with, not just feel sorry for or not simply pity.
Row upon row on.
The harvest never does end.
Compassion rows hope.