Laborers in the Plentiful Harvest
I have to admit, that last week I could not help but smile when I said the words “this is the gospel of the Lord.” The smile came to me because I was resisting the urge to say it with a slightly different inflection. The word gospel can often be understood as meaning good news, but as you might recall, last week’s gospel reading was first about how Jesus was rejected by a village of Samaritians and the text highlights that it is because of His focus on his ultimate mission. After that we heard about a number of people who were not fit for the kingdom of God. Jesus, Jesus, I will go with you wherever you go. And Jesus says, look I have nowhere to lay my head, I am not going to a specific destination as you desire. Jesus then invites someone to follow him and the guy responds, let me first go and bury my father. This seems to me like a reasonable request and yet Jesus responds, someone else will take care of it, but you should go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Another says I will follow you but first let me say goodbye to my household. Another seemingly reasonable request, after all, God tells us to honor our father and mother, and yet Jesus says if you are taking up the cause you can’t look back. The reading last week began with Jesus rejected and then seemingly Jesus doing some rejecting of His own. And what I wanted to say was “This is the gospel of the Lord?” to which the adequate response would be a difficult “thanks be to God.” Our gospel reading for today is no less challenging than last week’s.
Jesus appoints 72 other people, people who were not the 12 disciples, who were sent out similarly as Luke tells us earlier in his gospel, to go to every town that Jesus himself was about to go. How does this sound for a mission model for the Falcon and Peyton area. You go one of the many housing developments and select a house, knock on the door, upon the owner opening the door you proclaim loudly “Peace be to this house.” If the person invites you in, stay there for a time, have them feed you, and heal all the sick in that development, letting them know that the Kingdom of God has come near to them. If that house doesn’t welcome you in, then try another house and if no house in that development welcomes you, then wipe the dirt off of your shoes as a testimony against them. By a show of hands how many of you are thinking “oh yeah, sign me up, I have been waiting my whole life for this opportunity?” Please excuse my being a bit facetious, I am not doing it to mock the scripture, but I am simply trying to highlight that I don’t think that this word of God is coming to us to be prescriptive of how all people are to work for the kingdom of God. At the same time, there are truths about the nature of doing the work of the kingdom of God that are present in this text, that I think are universal.
Jesus says, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” That verse alone contains so many good truths. The work of the workers is telling the good news concerning the kingdom of God, that is what it is like to be subject to God, to be a part of His kingdom. Therefore the harvest, is people, people who are ready to hear the message of the good news, to receive that message, and to be reconciled to God because of that message. Jesus is saying that the amount of people who are ready to hear that living as a part of God’s kingdom is a blessing is plentiful. But I ask you, is that how you view the world around you? As a plentiful number of people who are waiting to be reconciled with God? As I said before, the 72 did not include the 12 disciples. Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, and then they came back, Jesus next has 72 different people, different workers, that he sends out, and yet still Jesus says that the harvest is so plentiful that the collective 84 people are not enough workers to do all the work. That is a reason to rejoice. Don’t you see, the people at your work, the people in your neighborhood, the people in your school, the people right around here, the harvest is plentiful. What is the first action to take? You should pray. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers, of which you are one, into His harvest. These people already belong to Him, and you get to proclaim the good news that they do not have to be estranged from their creator any longer. This verse gives us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus. Jesus desires that more people would be sent out to do the work of the kingdom in order that more people would be reconciled to God. As Paul says in his 1st letter to Timothy, God desires that all people to be saved, and come to the knowledge of truth. I bring up this point because I think it can be easily overlooked that God desire for humanity is ultimately a reconciled relationship. This being contrasted with a god who simply communicates that if you fail to do these things then I have nothing but anger for you, but if you do these things then I won’t punish you. Jesus is saying pray that more reconciliations can take place.
However, Jesus also notes that it will not be easy, for even though we are not going door to door as I described earlier, I think it can still apply that our going out to reconcile people to God is like being sent out like lambs in the midst of wolves. I don’t want to sugar coat it for you. If you do what God calls all of us to do, to go and make disciples, there will be people who will reject your message. They will not want to hear anything concerning God. The wolves are not a part of the plentiful harvest, and you might be tempted to think that it is the wolves that are plentiful and not the harvest. When you think this, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and not share the message at all, because you become so focused on the look of the teeth, pushing the wolf metaphor a bit further. You might say, I am a sheep and I have no protection if those teeth decide to come right for me, best to keep silent, under the radar, lest I incur undesired wrath.
But don’t forget that you have been given one of the best defenses against teeth that God can give, and that is peace. It might seem like a small thing, but the peace of God that you bring with you should not be overlooked. For when the wolf seeks to attack you, and peace is what you offer in return, you undo the work of the wolf. It is like it says in Proverbs, words which Paul reiterates in his letter to the Romans. “If your enemy is hungry, give him food, if he is thirsty give him something to drink, in doing this, you will heap burning coals upon his head.” If your enemy seeks to cause pain, give him back peace. Peace is a wonderful gift from God, which paves the way for sharing the good news of the kingdom of God.
Let us also not overlook the words of Jesus in this passage, “the one who hears you hears me.” The message that you proclaim to the people around you concerning God’s kingdom is not yours alone, but is Jesus’s own words spoken through you. You are not sent out alone, empty handed, just waiting to be slaughtered, but rather our Lord and Savior goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He has given you His spirit to be with you.
So as you share the good news of the kingdom of God this week, begin first with prayer, asking for God to send forth workers into His plentiful harvest. Then, as you go, take with you the peace which God has given to you, and finally, find peace and comfort in the knowledge that the words that you speak of your testimony of the kingdom of God are not your words alone, but are the words of Christ flowing through you.