Farmers in Biblical times operated in much the same way as my contemporary Monroe County counterparts. Crops were planted, cultivated and harvested. The farmer would tend to his crop and wait for the right moment to harvest it. When the time came, he would assemble a team to help him bring it in. Although a farmer in ancient Israel did not have the advantage of modern technology to plant or reap, the same attention was given to his crop. His life and the lives of those he loved depended on it. The fact that the farmer did not have technology in his favor made him more readily recognize that the outcome of his harvest was truly in God’s hands.
Jesus as a master storyteller knew the close connection his audience had to farming. Many of His parables and lessons are agriculturally based (Mt. 13:1-8; 20:1-16; 21:33-44; Mk. 12:1-12;Lk. 8:4-15; 13:6-9; 20:9-18). In Matthew 9:35-38 Jesus uses the agricultural industry as a simile to the spreading of the Gospel. He has been traveling through the Galilee region preaching the Good News and healing the sick. Matthew notes in verse 36, that Jesus had a tremendous amount of compassion on the people who came to Him. The verbs which describe this multitude accentuate the contrast in the way that Jesus saw the crowd over the perception of the Pharisees. The people are distressed; a word derived from the verb “to skin, flay, or lacerate”. It is used metaphorically here to signify their state of being. The multitude is also down-trodden. This verb brings forth the picture of something that has been dropped or scattered (such as a handful of marbles; once unified every piece has rolled off in its own direction). While Jesus had compassion toward these people, the Pharisees in previous verses have demonstrated a different view of them. John Barclay wrote, “The Pharisees saw the common people as chaff to be destroyed and burned up; Jesus saw them as a harvest to be reaped and saved. The Pharisees in their pride looked for the destruction of sinners; Jesus in love died for their salvation.”
We have no record of what prompted Jesus’ admonition to His disciples in verse 37, but I can imagine what may have preceded it. With multitudes of needy people coming to Jesus day after day, I’m sure the disciples grew weary of it at times. I’m also sure that some of those people were looking for what they could out of Jesus without any further commitment to Him. I’m sure the disciples noticed this. Perhaps they reflected on what they’d left behind to follow Jesus and resented the ones who were taking advantage of Him. And I’m sure they felt obligated to point this out to Jesus! It’s human nature. But Jesus sees the behavior of the multitude as a direct result of their situation. They are a flock without a shepherd (v. 36); a field ready for harvest with no workers to reap its bounty (v. 37). I can almost guarantee that the disciples’ response to this was, “Well, Jesus, what do you want us to do about it?!” So He tells them!
Jesus says that the disciples are to “beseech the Lord of the Harvest”. Most of us do not use this word today. It is not merely “to ask” for something. It means to make one’s needs known, particularly in the context of an inferior to a superior. The request here is that the Lord of the Harvest would send out (literally “thrust forth”) workers (this Greek word is directly associated with farming). Matthew relates this lesson as a rather brief moment in the ministry of Jesus. But the parallel passage in Luke is connected to the sending out of 70 disciples to “every place where He Himself was going to come” (Lk. 10:1-12) moving the exhortation from His immediate disciples to all who follow Him. Barclay wrote, “If the harvest of men is ever to be reaped, then every one of us must be a reaper, for there is someone whom each one of us could, and must, bring to God”. What does the harvest look like to you? Or perhaps I should say, “Who is your harvest?”
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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