THERE ARE A COUPLE things that strike me about today’s gospel passage.
- First, it is because Jesus is filled by compassion that he responds so openly to the needs of the people
- Second, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few
- Third, the whole part about being sent out as sheep into the wolves and being like serpents and doves
- Fourth, all of this won’t be over by the time the Son of Man comes
Jesus now goes openly out and about among the people. A while ago when he performed a miracle, there were times when he would say to his followers to keep things quiet and tell no one. This time he makes no secret of what he is doing as he goes about openly healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the leapers, and casting out demons. His actions led to eventual turmoil for him and his apostles.
And now, to his apostles, he gives the same authority. Clearly an aspiration to which we fall short. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
I am certain there are many times when a physician these days says to herself that she wishes she had some kind of magic wand to wave in order to make people better. There have been moments when I have thought that and a few times when I’ve said that to a person who is suffering from a dreadful disease or to a family whose loved one has been critically injured. I have said that when I was working in critical care hospitals and I have said that at times since then.
In spite of all our striving, we still have far to go in the realm of healing and learning. And we still have a long way to go in bringing justice and equity to the world. Compassion is the starting point.
It’s not just in medicine; it is also in responding to needs caused by drought and famine, wars and hostilities, persecution and assimilation, bias and discrimination. The needs around the globe are seemingly insurmountable. The harvest is plentiful -- the demands are plentiful -- but the workers are few. Still Jesus calls us to go out into the harvest to bring compassion.
The kingdom of heaven is near. You can hear the kingdom of heaven in the outcry that resounds across the globe for social justice and civil rights. You can see the kingdom of heaven breaking through in video clips included in news reports that reveal the truth of what is really happening.
Through the kingdom of heaven, it would be – it is – possible to bring justice for all, to feed the hungry, care for the sick, house the homeless. The Kingdom is near but not yet fully here. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few … or not enough can get out into the field to work the harvest… or we lose the critical mass of workers when they’re mobilized to demand change in a common voice that cannot be ignored.
It is like sheep going out among the wolves. It is an incredibly hard task but it is what it will require to make the difference. Then maybe the Kingdom of heaven will be fully ushered in and the world will be changed. It’s not just an ideal. It is possible. We, as the human race, just haven’t yet figured out how to do it. But the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Look around. There are glimpses of it everywhere.
It takes wisdom and cunning and compassion. Being wise as serpents while being gentle as a dove. That sounds like a mantra relevant for modern day activists. It sounds sensible too for modern-day apostles. It takes wisdom to work with the systems and it takes gentleness and compassion to have the proper motivation that endures and that will prevail. It’s not an easy path. It is unsettling. And there will be resistance.
In Jesus’ day, he sent his apostles out to the cities of Israel. In these days, he sends us out to the world. He sends us to those in need close-by and to those in need in lands far away. The needs and demands are immense… but not forever impossible… because the Kingdom of heaven is already at hand and the works of compassion can make it fully a reality. It is not just an ideal…
Someday when the faithful are still working on all this, the Son of Man will arrive. Someday, some glorious day. Jesus said that.
“Then, Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and [even] Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”
Jesus summons apostles even in this day.
And these are their names … your name and my name.
Jesus names us. Jesus is naming and calling each and every one of us who by baptism have signed on to the work of the harvest.
The harvest is plentiful … but it’s when the workers who are few amass their voices that the kingdom will be taking over and the Son of Man comes.