Jesus pleads with us to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into the harvest, before it becomes too late and the harvest rots in the field.
Jesus was working very hard, travelling through cities and villages proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and curing diseases and sicknesses. When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them. The word “compassion” in scripture is used to describe what it means to be moved in our guts, in the depths of our being with overwhelming anger, passion and grief. Jesus was filled with emotion because his fellow Jews were “harassed and helpless.” They didn’t have proper leadership. They were like sheep without a shepherd.
In this text it is not the suffering bodies which move Jesus. According to the text he healed all those who came to him. It is the institutional oppression and poverty his people are suffering under Roman rule that made him angry.
Part of the reason there was so much poverty and sickness was because of the injustice Jews suffered as a subjugated race. There was no equality or dignity for the Jew and uprisings were dealt with harshly. Local leaders were the puppets of the Roman state and the people had little choice other than to kowtow to leaders who didn’t care about them. Their leaders were only concerned with lining their own pockets and personal survival.
Sickness within our bodies is painful, but the crushing of our souls is worse. When someone is bullied they feel helpless and harassed and are in danger of losing hope.
Many of us have felt oppressed and crushed at work or in the home as a result of domestic abuse. Unjust working conditions, racism, sexism, ageism and oppression as a result of sexuality dehumanises and diminishes the soul.
The explosion of anger on our streets and across the world during last week and the pulling down of statues happened both because black citizens in the USA and here in the UK people felt helpless and harassed and because of poor leadership.
When pictures of the arrest and killing of George Floyd were seen across America, not just the injustices of the present day, but the injustices they had suffered throughout history, including slavery and segregation came back with a passion and anger. The police officer who killed George Floyd by placing his knee on his neck for a full nine minutes epitomised oppression of the black community by the white community.
What happened was unjust, possibly racist and made worse by President Trump’s use of tear gas to clear the streets so he could pose Bible in hand in front of a Church. The Black Community felt like sheep without a shepherd. Who cared for them? Black Lives Matter!
Here in our country the event triggered violent anger, particularly against the police. Clashes between the far right organisations and those pulling down historic emblems were inevitable. Anarchy cannot and mustn’t be allowed to last for long. The rule of law must prevail and it must be seen to be both just and compassionate.
Power gained through riots and chaos oppresses other poor communities. In reality, many who live in poor neighbourhoods, the unemployed, refugees, disabled, single mothers and modern day slaves whether black or white experience powerlessness and feel they have no voice.
Jesus recognised and challenged the dark, institutional powers that ruled in his day. Before he healed sick bodies, he proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. God’s rule is just and loving. He doesn’t tear down the vulnerable, he brings healing.
Jesus had not come to start a movement that competed with worldly power for money, fame and power. Even though in worldly terms, both he and his friends were poor, he came to give his life away in the service of others.
His work must have been tiring and he knew his ministry would not last long. He needed helpers who would follow him and do what he did, so he chose twelve ordinary men to be apostles or “sent out ones,” one of whom would deny him and another of whom would betray him.
They were to minister specifically within the boundaries of Israel. The power and authority they were given was to do as Jesus did, to proclaim and show what God’s Kingdom was like by curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. Jesus want to heal us from all that is causing us to suffer, whether it is oppression as a result of evil, mental illness, bodily illness or sickness as a result of being treated like an outcast.
Jesus’ friends were to give themselves away freely without payment because what they had received from the Lord had been freely given
Romans lists the gifts we freely receive through our Lord Jesus Christ: Peace with God, access into his presence, grace, hope and God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who he has given to us.
Christ loves us so much that he died for us. He feely shed his blood so that even though we were sinners we might be made right with him.
Because we have been given so much we have much to give. There is still a plentiful harvest to reap.
Because of the COVID crisis, Jesus is unlikely in the present time to send us out to proclaim his Kingdom either across our nation or to be missionaries in other countries. British missionaries have been accused of being imperialists, colonialists and oppressors in the past.
When applied to our context, Jesus’ plea for labourers in the harvest sounds more like an advertisement for the 70000 seasonal workers that we need in this country this year to pick our fruit and veg than a request for followers to be his disciples and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
We need fruit and veg to keep healthy. It is sad that Eastern European workers have been imported in this present crisis to do jobs that not enough British will do. Volunteering to feed others shows care and a servant heart.
Jesus still calls us to proclaim his Kingdom and his salvation by word and action where we are.
Instead of expressing righteous anger on our streets, let us sow love and healing through our prayers, through our phone calls and messages on social media and through our service of others and our giving.