During a recent conversation with my boss, I was informed that a certain area of the country had a lot of potential. According to him, we could be doing much better but were limited by the amount of employees we had in that area. This led me to place help wanted advertisements on the internet to find more people who could fill the need there.
As we have been looking at Matthew 9:35-38, we have already seen the compassion Jesus had toward the needy people around Him. As he worked with them, his heart was moved with emotion because they were weary and harassed by their religious leaders. We ought to follow His example by being compassionate toward the lost around us. But there is something else we should do as well.
2. Take note of the needs (37).
Before we get to praying for more laborers, we need to stop and take note of what the needs are. Have you ever been asked to pray and then stumbled about because you didn’t have anything to say? I have felt that way before. It is best to know what you are needing before asking for help. This is what Jesus did before telling His disciples to pray. He showed them what the need was.
a. What is the status of the harvest?
Mounce defines θερισμὸς as “a harvest, the act of gathering in the harvest, reaping, Jn. 4:35; met. the harvest of the Gospel, Mt. 9:37, 38; Lk. 10:2; a crop.” In normal language, a harvest is the grain or crop in the field which will eventually be harvested for food. But Jesus was using the word to describe the spiritual situation where He was. He saw this group of people as a crop ready to be harvested.
When I am hiring drivers, I have to balance the desire for workers with the amount of work that is available. Imagine if there were 33 taxi cabs in Willard. Do you think there would be enough work for all of them? Probably not. But when Jesus looked at the spiritual harvest at that moment, what did he see?
Mounce defines πολύς as “great, large; more than, greater than; the most; very large.” The idea was that the spiritual crop around him was larger than normal. When harvested it would include a great number of people. Grandpa Plikerd of Delphos, Ohio showed me pictures of a field of corn that was 8 feet tall by the Fourth of July. It was the biggest crop he had experienced. Jesus told his disciples that the spiritual crop around them was very large.
Can you think of another time when Jesus used this idea of a crop needing to be harvested? “The figure of reaping a harvest he had employed before (perhaps a year before, at Jacobs’ well (John 4:35 ff.)” (Broadus 211). At that time, Jesus was referring to the many people coming from Samaria to talk with him after his conversation with the woman at the well.
John 4:35 – “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”
The status of the harvest is not always the same. Jesus did not speak this way at every place he spoke. But in this instance, he saw the great possibilities. Do you take note of the status of the spiritual harvest field around you? There is often a need wherever we go. Yes, there are places where people are especially hardened against the truth. But there are often others whose hearts the Lord is working in. Take note. Explore the possibilities. If we don’t take note of what is around us, we may have a wrong impression of the status of the harvest field.
b. What is the need of the harvest?
The ultimate need of people is to be saved. But Jesus does not address that specifically at this moment. Instead, he looks past the people to the need that He saw. He told the disciples that there were not enough laborers to work with the people.
Mounce defines ἐργάται as “a workman, laborer, Mt. 9:37, 38; 20:1, 2, 8; met. a spiritual workman or laborer, 2 Cor. 11:13; an artisan, artificer, Acts 19:25; a worker, practicer, Lk. 13:27.”
This reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the workers who were hired at different times of the day but paid the same amount. The workers there were hired by the land owner to go into the field and specific work. They would have been people who were capable, trainable, and willing to do the work.
When I hire people, I ask questions that will reveal whether they have the ability to drive long distances, to wake up at night to take trips, and to stick with the job. There are some things that can be taught, but there are other characteristics that the worker has to have already. Otherwise, hiring them would be a mistake.
In order for a spiritual crop to be harvested, spiritual workers are needed. What makes a good worker? A good worker must first be a Christian. God is not calling people from the world to be workers. He is calling Christians to step up and start working. What else makes a good worker? A worker must be willing to do the work. Someone can have a lot of training, character, and experience, but if they are not willing to do the work, they are not useful. A worker must be persistent. When working in God’s harvest field, a worker must keep working. The work is often hard and there are times when the results may not be satisfying.
Mounce defines ὀλίγοι as “little, small, short; (pl.) few.”
I recently had someone ask to borrow some money because things were a bit tight financially. He was short of needed cash. This is the idea of the word Jesus used. The spiritual harvest was plentiful but the amount of workers was few. They were short a few workers.
It is interesting that Jesus said this to disciples here and also to the 70 who were sent at a different time (Luke 10:1-2). How could there be too many people for 12 to handle or for 70 to handle? Well, think about it this way. How many people can one person effectively talk to at one time? Usually, people want a one-on-one conversation when talking about spiritual needs. So, twelve people could only handle 12 at a time. Even 70 (a greater number) would be limited to 70 people at a time.
When we traveled with the Explorers team in Wisconsin, I remember one evening where we helped talk to people who responded to a gospel invitation. The young man I spoke with was a bit distracted. Instead of responding to the gospel, he asked what we thought about aliens. While we were talking, I am sure that there were others who could have been dealt with if I wasn’t tied up with this person. But there were only so many people available to help.
Tonight, we have looked at the status of the harvest field. Jesus noted that the field was plentiful. God had been working in people’s hearts and there were plenty who were ready to respond. We also looked at the need of the field. Jesus noted that there were few laborers to work with the people in this area. Together we see a great harvest, few workers, and this leads us to what Jesus says in verse 38. We will look at this next time. But for now, take a look around you and look at what God is doing. Then get busy in the harvest field.
“ἐργάτης” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/ergates on 3/22/2023.
“θερισμὸς” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/therismos on 3/22/2023.
“ὀλίγος” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/oligos on 3/22/2023.
“πολύς” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/polys on 3/22/2023.
Lenski, R. C. H., Interprestion of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Columbus: Wartburg, 1943, pp. 384-85.
Plummer, Alfred, Matthew, Minneapolis: Colormaster, n.d., pp. 144-46.