Pentecost 2


Pentecost 2
Matthew 9: 35 - 10: 8 (9-23)

Object:   one of our banners for the sanctuary, picturing Jesus and some sheep.

Key Verses:   When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.   Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  (Matthew 9:  36-38)

The other day I stumbled across this banner and was rather taken by it.  Of course, the banner depicts Jesus with a bunch of sheep.   This is a pastoral scene which gives us all kinds of good and warm feelings. 

As I looked at this banner, a song came to my mind, one with which you might be familiar.    When I see this banner, I think of the song, I Just Wanna Be a Sheep:

I just wanna be a sheep
Baa, baa, baa, baa
I just wanna be a sheep
Baa, baa, baa, baa
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
I just wanna be a sheep
Baa, baa, baa, baa

There are other verses which note things that you DO NOT want to be, such as a hypocrite, a Pharisee or a Sadduccee.   Nope, don’t want to be one of those.   But if I WANT to be SOMETHING, brothers and sisters, I want to be a SHEEP.

So the first verse of the song says:   “I just wanna be a sheep.”

But I think there might be a verse missing, a verse that we may have to insert. 

Notice that there is no verse which begins:   I just wanna be a HARVESTER; that is the verse we need to add. 

If there was, the new verse could look/sound something like this:

I just wanna be a HARVESTER

Yeah, yeah, yeah , yeah!

I just wanna be a HARVESTER

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

I pray Jesus will send me out there

I just wanna be a HARVESTER

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Apparently there is no such verse.   And in some respects, I think for good reason; we

would rather be a sheep than a harvester which raises all kinds of difficulties and struggles for us.

I see this Sunday the second Sunday of Pentecost, as being a Sunday of transition, a new direction.  We are changing seasons in the church year and with the changes come some notable issues and concerns.

No longer are the paraments white, no longer do we hear wonderful stories of seeing the resurrected Jesus, no longer do we sing Easter hymns of joy.   Now, we see green paraments which are meant to suggest the growth of the church and we hear stories not of joy, but of work.

From now on we hear stories of work, getting on with the work of the church.

And that is hard. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to just be a sheep?  Wouldn’t it be nice to stay all cuddled up, safe in the arms of Jesus?   Wouldn’t it be nice to lie beside green pastures, to break bread with the Lord, to have our cup runneth over?

Sure would!    

Instead, we sheep are encouraged to be HARVESTERS. And that is hard.
Harvesting is hard and WAS hard and I imagine that when Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest," his disciples might have said, “Uh oh!”

Why?  Because harvesting WAS hard in the days of Jesus walking on this earth.  

Harvesting was backbreaking work.

Two thousand years ago, there were no combines, no air conditioned cabs, so people had to harvest grain by pulling it up by the roots, or cutting it with a type of sickle, according to circumstances. The grain when cut was generally put up in sheaves which were afterwards gathered to the threshing-floor or stored in barns.

Harvesting continued with the process of threshing which meant spreading the sheaves on the threshing-floor and causing oxen and cattle to walk repeatedly over them. On occasions flails or sticks were used for this purpose. There was also a “threshing instrument” which was drawn over the grain; the Hebrews called this moreg, a threshing roller or sledge.

When the grain was threshed, it was winnowed by being thrown up against the wind and afterwards tossed with wooden scoops. Sometimes harvesters used a shovel and fan for winnowing. The refuse of straw and chaff was burned.

Figs, grapes, vegetables, pomegranates, fruit were picked by hand.

Obviously harvesting was very labour intensive. 

Harvesting could be a form of employment.   Harvesters were often itinerant workers. 

Some of you may be able to relate to that because maybe you saw or experienced threshing crews on the prairie many years ago.  People hired out for threshing crews and would go from farm to farm.   The legend of threshing crews always included large meals and many people gathered at the table. 

In the day of the gospel writers, if a farmer did not have a big enough family, he could hire itinerant workers.   Large landowners obviously needed hired hands so they too would hire itinerant workers to harvest.   Absentee landowners were the same. 

So a harvester was a worker who bounced from job to job.   He didn’t usually get paid well for back-breaking work.   He often had to rely on the hospitality of strangers.  If the itinerant worker was lucky he was fed and maybe even sheltered.   Otherwise he would show up in the village markets to hopefully get picked up for a long day of labour.   

No doubt the disciples cringed.  Harvester?!   Can’t I just be a sheep?

But Jesus doesn’t just see people as sheep. 

While we are indeed sheep and follow Jesus, at some point Jesus calls upon us to be workers in the kingdom of God.   Jesus calls upon us to exercise the same compassion with others that he has extended to us.

Jesus had compassion for the crowds and as such, he taught and healed and gave people hope.   As Jesus selects his followers he does so, because he sees a harvest and he sees that nobody else cares.   So he recruits followers to send them out into the fields, into the crops, to where the harvest is.  They are to go and give people hope.   They are to take care of their backyard first.

Our gospel opens with the sentence:   “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.”

You see, Jesus had been doing that for quite a while.  If you go backwards in your Bibles, from Matthew 9: 35, all the way back to 4: 23, you will see that Jesus has been:    teaching, proclaiming, healing and curing, all the way along.   He teaches the sermon on the Mount, he cures blind people, deaf and dumb people, people who are bleeding, he raises people from the dead.  The whole time he goes along and he tells people that these are all signs of the kingdom of God, that God’s reign is being established in, with, through and under his person.

And now... we come to these WATERSHED VERSES, today’s gospel reading, Matthew 9: 35-10: 8 .  Jesus continues to preach, teach, heal, cure and proclaim the kingdom of God.  And then Jesus turns to his disciples and says:   

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Oops!

From now on, in the second section of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shifts responsibility and the call to action.   Jesus seems to figure that it is no longer satisfactory for him to go about his ministry on his own; it is time, for the whole organization to get involved.    It is pretty easy to figure out WHO he shifts the responsibility to; it is to his followers. 

He gathers a whole bunch of people, the good, the bad and the ugly.   He gives them instructions on how to go out into the harvest.   He sends them out.  He tells them that it is not going to be easy, that this might involve scorn and persecution, but he tells them not to be afraid because he will be with them at all times. 

I personally don’t imagine that they were happy campers.  

And yet, in the end, maybe this is the only logical conclusion to this Jesus movement.   Jesus goes about the countryside, extending mercy, compassion to those he meets.   His heart goes out to all that he encounters.  

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, The Greek word for compassion refers to deep, emotional feelings located in “the bowels” of one’s humanity. We find that Jesus was compassionate in many circumstances and the word, “compassionate,” is used to describe him.

Jesus extends compassion, not because he is such a nice fellow, but because that is what the kingdom of God required of him.    He was a shepherd to harassed and helpless sheep.    That compassion took him to the cross, because that is what the kingdom of God required of him.

Jesus knew that such compassion was the way of God.   He also knew that such compassion was rewarding and fulfilling, not just for those who received, but for those who gave of such compassion.  

For his followers, all of this took on special meaning. 

Christ died for his followers, not when they (we) were righteous, but while they and we were ungodly sinners, and because of him they and we have been given hope through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As people of God we are endowed, blessed, gifted, with the holiness and righteousness of God. We are a kingdom, of priests, of ministers one to another and a holy nation to bring hope to the lost and sick and oppressed, who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.

What does all of THAT mean?            

It means that the harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.   It means that a world starved of compassion, NEEDS compassion and there are very few people out there who are compassionate.  Those who have experienced compassion, especially the compassion of Jesus, become the laborers.  

Sometimes that doesn’t seem like something we want to hear on a Sunday morning.  

But strangely, it brings joy.  I have seen that joy in a lot of different situations and times in this church, as we have given of ourselves, extending compassion to others by offering food and clothing.

It means that people who need companionship and community are invited into fellowship. 

            Still…. wouldn’t it be nice to just remain a sheep?  Sure would!   We STILL ARE sheep.  We are still part of the flock of Jesus.   But Jesus gives us another role.  He wants us to be HARVESTERS too, for we have been given a precious gift that he wants us to share with others. 

            Still…. Thanks be to God.  Amen. 



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