The Urgent Harvest
Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission, telling them to go to the people of the villages around them, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God. He spoke of their work as if it were harvest time. Our traditional way of reading this passage is to understand the "harvest" as being the idea of reaping the many souls waiting to hear the Gospel and be saved, like fruit ready to be picked and brought into the barn.
That picture is perfectly true, but there may be another idea behind Jesus' words that is different than simply seeing people as "produce" to be harvested for God. Knowing a little about farming helps us understand the picture better. After weeks of waiting for the crops to mature, when they finally are ripe, a farmer has only days to get the crop in before it starts to spoil in the field, or before the rains come and ruin it. It is also in danger of being eaten by birds or being stolen.
Farmers will hire as many workers as they can find, and even pay them extra because many hands are needed for the task. As one rabbi put it, "The day is short and the work is great, but the workers are lazy; however, the wages are high since the owner is in a hurry" (Rabbi Tarfon, (130 AD), Pirke Avot 2:15).
Seeing the message of the harvest story as one of urgency makes Jesus words fits with the rest of the passage better. He told them not to take extra money, clothing, or to greet anyone along the way. The disciples would have been traveling among the villages of Israel where, as preachers of Torah, they would have expected to be shown hospitality. So he told them to travel as light as they could and not to spend time in long conversations with friends they met along the way.
Jesus is saying that our mission has great urgency - there is much that God wants us to do, and the time to get it done is shorter than we think! We need to be eager to use every opportunity for carrying out his work. As Paul says, "Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16).
©2006 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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