Inspired by Matthew 9:35-10:23
Ok, so we’re back in Matthew! And thankfully, this is where we get stay for the rest of the summer! We are basically going to read straight on through the rest of Matthew’s gospel from now until Advent, with very few skipped passages. We start in chapter nine and the reason we do is rather simple. Not only have we already celebrated the birth of Christ and so don’t need to read those chapters again, but also because of the season of the church year we are in.
The season after Pentecost goes by many names: the long green season, ordinary time is another name it goes by, but my favorite is the time of the church. During this long green season, our focus on Jesus turns into a focus on Jesus’ work in the world through the church, through us. And so, we start this journey with Jesus sending out his disciples for the first time, and by extension, sends us out.
And since this is chapter nine, Jesus has already done quite a bit. Aside from being born and facing persecution from day one, and then being tempted in the desert, he has been teaching and preaching and healing everywhere he goes, not to mention, calming storms and casting out demons! Jesus has been a busy guy, so busy in fact, that it seems that he comes to the realization that he can’t do this work alone. He needs help! There is too much to be done, too many needs in the world, for just one man to handle. Jesus says, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.” Now, I was stuck by that word harvest. What is this harvest that Jesus is referring to?
Many have interpreted that the harvest is people, or souls to be frank. They hear in this passage Jesus saying that there are a lot of unbelievers in the world, lost souls, that need to be harvested. To be fair there is something biblical about that, especially from the Hebrew scriptures. But that interpretation doesn’t exactly match up very well with our own theology, so I’m not convinced that this is what Jesus was saying here. Not to mention the fact that harvesting people’s souls sounds a bit creepy!
So if it’s not souls that Jesus needs our help harvesting, what is it? Compassion, acts of compassion. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew we are constantly reminded of Jesus acts of compassion: healing, teaching and proclaiming good news, liberating people from their demons and from societal stigmas, feeding, visiting, clothing.
All these and more can be simply categorized as acts of compassion. And then we are sent out to go and do likewise. This is the harvest that we are called to, acts of compassion, for a world that is in desperate need of some. And how do we know this? Not just from the headlines that we read but from our own needs too. How often do we need acts of compassion from others? Quite often! How often do we need to hear a word of comfort from others? How often do we need to be encouraged by others?
How often do we need help getting up when life’s got us down? Often! Jesus knew this as well as anyone, and he knew that we experience these needs too. Which leads me to what follows this passage that we read from Matthew’s Gospel. These were optional verses to read for today so I didn’t read them earlier, partly because I didn’t want to make you stand that long. But I’d like to read it to you now because this is just how much Jesus knows of our own needs of compassion from others.
Jesus continues, “Workers deserve to be fed, so don’t gather gold or silver or copper coins for your money belts to take on your trips. Don’t take a backpack for the road or two shirts or sandals or a walking stick. Whatever city or village you go into, find somebody in it who is worthy and stay there until you go on your way. When you go into a house, say, ‘Peace!’ If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if the house isn’t worthy, take back your blessing. If anyone refuses to welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or city. I assure you that it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for that city.
“Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. Watch out for people—because they will hand you over to councils and they will beat you in their synagogues. They will haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me so that you may give your testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Whenever they hand you over, don’t worry about how to speak or what you will say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you. Brothers and sisters will hand each other over to be executed. A father will turn his child in. Children will defy their parents and have them executed. Everyone will hate you on account of my name. But whoever stands firm until the end will be saved. Whenever they harass you in one city, escape to the next, because I assure that you will not go through all the cities of Israel before the Human One comes.”
Who’s gonna apply for a job like that? What was Jesus doing here? Well, he was being honest. As I mentioned on Pentecost Sunday, this is hard work we are called to do as baptized children of God. And, in a land where we are expected to look out for number one, to accumulate as much stuff as you possibly can, earn as much money as you possibly can, what we are called to do as the body of Christ in the world probably seems foolish and idiotic and a threat to what many deem an acceptable way of life.
So, not only we are called to difficult work, into a world that has many needs, not only is that work going to be largely thankless, but also viewed as a threat to much of the world. This is the call of the baptized. This is the call of the church. This is the harvest that needs workers—acts of compassion that the world is in desperate need of, and will often reject. Yet the call remains. But the call remains with Jesus knowing that we too are in need of acts of compassion. Though we are called to serve the world, we are also part of that world. Jesus has not forgotten that, and so, has not forgotten us. I think we can be so caught up in our service to the world that we can forget our own needs, and before we know it we are so worn thin that there’s not much left. That is not our call.
So, when you leave this place, and go out into the world that is both wonderful and chaotic, to harvest acts of compassion for a needy world, go trusting that you have not been forgotten, your needs are acknowledged, your happiness is taken into account—that Jesus pleads to the Lord of the harvest on your behalf, for workers to harvest act of compassion for you too. And though they may not seem like they come enough, when they do, cherish them, allow them to grow in you, for a harvest of your own. Thanks be to God. Amen.