The Harvest is Plentiful, Workers are Few—What’s it All About?

It’s Fall in North America and elsewhere—a time of harvest.

I baked an apple pie last weekend with apples picked from my friend’s apple trees. Pumpkin patches are full of children picking just the right pumpkin. In general, many of us are enjoying the fruits of our own or others’ labors.

This morning I came across the passage in Scripture which says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2) It was not so much the sentence itself that caused me to stop and think, but rather all the words around this well-known verse.

harvested field

Harvest in southeastern Arizona

For anyone who has had regular exposure to Scripture and Christian teaching, it is very, very likely that images of missionaries going out and proclaiming the gospel in words comes to mind when reading Luke 10:2.

However, I wonder if this “word-oriented” picture is all Jesus had in mind. Picture passing out tracts or street-corner evangelism. While God certainly uses those things, is this what Jesus meant when he sent out his disciples in this passage?

In looking at the workers Jesus is sending out, a lot more than sharing words with others seems to be going on.

If you have a moment, read Luke 10:1-12:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (ESV)

Here are a few thoughts that may be able to expand our view the next time we think of Jesus’ sending out workers into the harvest:

Luke 10:1-12 seems to present entire worlds—or Kingdoms—crashing together. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World.

There are definite characteristics of God’s Kingdom—a Kingdom that is described as having come near in verse 11). One is peace. Another is healing. And that healing touches both physical and spiritual. Specifically, Jesus says to heal the sick. A picture of wholeness or shalom is presented. In fact the Hebrew word for peace is shalom and it goes far beyond the absence of conflict. Check out the book Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. for great wisdom on this topic.

Finally, often we think of those who are “sent out” as laborers as ones with much to give and those who are on the “receiving end” as those with much to receive. In a sense this is true, but when I consider the disciples in this scenario it’s clear that this “sending out” was as much about them seeing the work of God as it was about them delivering anything to anyone.

If you went out with only the clothes on your back, as a sheep among wolves and saw God do great things, who would benefit? You or those being served? Probably both, but I can only imagine that this sending out was monumental for the disciples. They were learners on a journey that Jesus had sent them on. They were not mini-saviors. They were sent to point to the one Savior and see salvation as they took these steps of faith.

So, how does this all relate to the ministry of Food for the Hungry and your life today?

First, our lives are to be ordered under God as King, not ourselves, not any good “cause” we may dream up, etc.

Second, we need to understand that God’s Kingdom priorities are to bring wholeness in all areas of life. And that His Kingdom, which is both “at hand” and something we pray will come more fully, includes healing in both physical and spiritual needs. We may not see this happening 100 percent right now, but we need to know this is what God’s Kingdom looks like.

Finally, if we see ourselves as ones who are sent out, we need to be ready to be changed ourselves as we see the miraculous work of God in our midst. Hopefully this will lead us to greater trust in Him.

Next time you hear the words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” I hope will be reminded of the Lord’s grand work of bringing physical and spiritual restoration and also know that you—as a laborer—will be transformed in participating in His work of salvation.

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About Eileen O'Gorman

Sometimes I think I am incessant middle child. I find myself in the middle of things a lot. Right now, in particular with my work in communication for Food for the Hungry, I find myself in the middle—maybe a bridge builder—between “worlds.” However, what seems like many worlds all occupying one planet, is actually one grand world that God created. I just can’t get a handle on that! Mostly I hope that my work helps bring reconciliation in this world and that, by grace, we can see good things happening – on earth as it is in heaven.

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