“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,” Matthew 9:37b-38 (ESV).
Jesus saying that the harvest is plentiful, but that the laborers are few, is filled with urgency, perhaps even desperation. It is an emotive imagery employed that emphasizes his exasperation of witnessing the need of people, being harassed and helpless.
His statement stands as an indictment against the Church in lieu of the outstanding fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). Such a negative perception is a contemporary interpretation, as opposed to the neutrality in which the statement was perhaps originally said, because of the comparative contexts of Jesus’ earthly life and that of ours two millennia later. With the passing of time is Jesus’ statement an observation of absolute social realities, such as that the poor will always be among us (John 12:8), or is the instruction still applicable and indeed achievable?
You likely only need to think of people in a radius of 5km from where you live to understand the context that Jesus was looking on at the time of his statement and realize that the work of the Good Shepherd needs to continue. Jesus’ metaphor of the ripe harvest drives home that productivity must increase, laborers ought to prioritize the work above their own concerns. The moral imperative increases with awareness of people’s needs, and while laborers are still lacking, it makes our prayers ever more earnest, but perhaps also subconsciously despairing and without true faith.
The hope however comes in Jesus’ acknowledgement that the harvest is not a random, abstract collection of people, but belongs to someone. Instead of the Lord being spiteful, which must be petitioned to send more laborers, the Lord himself is eager for more laborers to present themselves for work, which can be sent. Our prayers are an act of solidarity with the Lord, a means of making ourselves available, as opposed to passing the responsibility to others, which we can at least claim we prayed for. God takes on the ultimate responsibility for the harvest, he shares in their struggles, identifies as one of them, and wanting to help spends his life on giving them the joy of the Kingdom.
As Jesus employs a metaphor of ripe harvest, we may feel at liberty to utilize allegorical comparisons to systemic injustices, waging spiritual warfare in isolation from the need for socio-political and economic changes. The best fulfillment to Jesus’ statement is to actively participate in the sending of laborers, either by going ourselves, or enabling and advocating for others to go, so that the Light can be brought into darkness, and freedom be given to captives.
If you feel the calling of God to go, or enabling others to go, you can partner with SOMA SA by joining one of its short-term missions; by supporting the work of SOMA SA financially or through your skill set as an act of sharing in the heart of God according to Matthew 9:37-38.
Rev Eben Grobbelaar