The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.
[In context: Jesus went around visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness. As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness. (Matt. 9:35-10:1)]
Jesus has been teaching, preaching, and healing and he sees a great need. The people are worried and helpless and he has pity for them. Because the need is so great, he decides that the time is right to send his disciples out so that more people can be helped. He sends them out to heal, drive out evil spirits, and proclaim the coming Kingdom of God.
When I asked Yahoo what the meaning of this scripture is, this is the one that was voted as the “best” answer: It means that there are many, many people who would become believers (the crop to be harvested, the harvest) but that there aren’t enough people working the field (sowing the word, telling them the good news).
This certainly confirms my experience with this scripture – it is interpreted in today’s church as though it’s about evangelism. Jesus wants to bring “thousands to Christ.” He wants make them all “Christians” so he’s sending out his disciples to sign them up for his new religion and keep them from going to hell.
But wait, Jesus says he is sending his disciples out to heal. Why? Because people are sick and need healing. Because they are needy. Because he feels sorry for them. Because no one is taking care of them. Not to sign them up for a religion that doesn’t exist yet. No, “the harvest is ripe” means that there are lots people who have faith that they can be healed, but they need someone to encourage them, to let them know it’s possible, to let them know that it’s the will of God that they should be healed. They need encouragers and, Jesus says, there are very few encouragers out there. (See Day 80). Remember in Jesus’ day if you were sick it was assumed that it was because of your sin (Day 65). So there were very few encouragers when it came to healing. There was lots of low hanging fruit, ripe for the picking. Many who could be healed, easily.
Also, if you still don’t believe this is true, then look at his first instruction to the disciples– don’t go to the Gentile or Samaritan areas (Matt. 10:5). He didn’t want new converts to Christianity. There wasn’t any Christianity then. The mission was to the Jews. As for conversion, you were either born a Jew or you were not. “Conversion” as we know it was rare.
So, in my opinion, the evangelical interpretation of this scripture is totally inappropriate. It was popularized by church leaders who want to “harvest” others – cut them down, then pick them up, grind them up, and consume them like wheat. It’s an interpretation created by users and it doesn’t produce good fruit. No, Jesus wasn’t concerned about saving souls from hell. He was worried about rescuing people here on earth from the torment and darkness of sickness and disease and hopelessness, right here, right now.
When I read this scripture what comes to mind is the Cuban program to export doctors to areas of the world where there is little or no medical care. It’s kind of like the American Peace Corp, but more awesome. Here are some excerpts from the Wikipedia article on this subject:
Cuban medical internationalism is the Cuban programme, since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, of sending Cuban medical personnel overseas, particularly to Latin America, Africa and, more recently, Oceania, and of bringing medical students and patients to Cuba. In 2007, “Cuba has 42,000 workers in international collaborations in 103 different countries, of whom more than 30,000 are health personnel, including no fewer than 19,000 physicians.” The Cuban missions have had substantial positive local impact on the populations served. It is widely believed that medical workers are Cuba’s most important export commodity.
The programme was initiated in 1963 when Cuba sent a small medical brigade to Algeria, which suffered from the mass withdrawal of French medical personnel during the independence war; some wounded soldiers and war orphans were also transported back to Cuba for treatment. Cuba did this at a time when, following the Cuban revolution, “half of the country’s 6,000 doctors fled.”
Missions abroad are intended to provide services at low cost to the host country. “Patients are not charged for services, and the recipient countries are expected to cover only the cost of collective housing, air fare, and limited food and supplies not exceeding $200 a month. While Cuban doctors are abroad, they continue to receive their salaries as well as a stipend in foreign currency. Pay for Cuban doctors abroad, while much higher than at home is still low by international standards. However due to the socialist ideal of their country this monetary discrepancy is merely circumstantial to the practitioners themselves as it is the development and preservation of internationalist humanitarian aid that defines their cause.
The Cuban government saw the need for medical care in Angola in 1963 and has been sending out doctors ever since. They looked out at Africa and other poor nations and saw that there were many people who were sick with diseases that could be cured with simple medical care. They saw an opportunity to make the world a better place and alleviate suffering – with very little effort. Low hanging fruit. The program was wildly successful and the Cuban doctors have made a big difference in the lives of millions over the years. I think God blessed this program which continues even to this day, and I think those Cuban doctors have a better understanding of this scripture than the evangelical Christians whose only concern is heaven or hell. The Cubans have a better understanding of the vision of Jesus and the heart of God. Healthy, happy people who know that the world has not forgotten them. Peace and good will. Really good fruit.
What does this scripture say to you?