Third Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Harvesting The Kingdom
Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]
Third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 6-Sunday between June 12 and 18 Inclusive)
analysis by Michael Hoy

35Then 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. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These 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; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you, go proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”]


Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Rotting existence
When Jesus looks out upon the cities and villages and the crowds that come out to him, he sees through what many of us may only see on the surface when we look out on our own world or read about it in our newspaper — what a mess! Of course, things are a mess — and there is not enough labor to keep up with the problem. People are “harassed and helpless” by the weight of the garbage they are having to deal with day in, day out. To be sure, somebody ought to do something about it. But that somebody is not us.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: No heart for labor
But seeing through our problem means seeing that it is not only that there is a shortage of good labor. Having a heart for the task of clean up is difficult. In general we are not willing to do the work it takes to gather a harvest, assuming that a harvest can even be found. It’s easier to let sick people die, to keep outcasts in their place, to let the hungry fend for themselves, than it is to lift a finger. For we, too, have enough harassing problems to make our lives helpless. So don’t talk to us about labor, especially not in this season of summer siestas.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Left-handed harvesting
But maybe that harassed, helpless feeling is not all that accidental. Maybe the rotting world that exists is the rotting world we have helped to create. But the One who creates the “good creation” and didn’t rest until it was done (Genesis 1-2) certainly did not intend this waste-land as his final end product. The shepherd-kings of the past have failed in their exercise of justice and peace, but God will not sit still while the world goes to pot. God still uses agents and structures so that his left-handed labor of harvesting and clean-up will continue. And God’s “harassing” often comes via his finding our house unworthy and shaking the dust off his feet — and leaving us to ultimately end up in the waste bucket. Consider the harvesting of “Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment.” Somebody is doing something about the mess. But we might prefer that it be left alone.


Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Harvesting Lord
There is, of course, another way by which God harvests the mess of our rotting existence. Jesus’ desire to harvest in this setting is not with a rod of anger but with a heart of compassion. He reaches out to people in their pain and sorrow. He touches people who are bleeding and sick. He makes the unworthy priceless. In return for sin he grants forgiveness. Out of death he brings life. In judgment he gives hope. Yes, Jesus changes everything, but he does not force these changes upon us. He gives them to us freely and asks for no payment in return. Jesus comes to take our helpless harassed experience and death to himself in order to make us the precious fruits of his harvest.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Harvested hearts
The change that we receive from this harvesting venture of our Lord is not only that we are his precious, good fruit, but that we get to be emboldened to bud. Our hearts are emboldened because we have the promise that we will “endure to the end” (v. 21). Just being Christ’s harvesters in the world will produce resistance. The resistance to his harvesting is due to the fact that it spells the end of all the world’s means of harvesting by force and intimidation. We are bringing a new message of harvest to the world, one that runs in the face of the left-handed harvesting that spells our doom; but that left-handed harvesting has been crossed-out in Christ’s harvest in hope. With our bold claim that we are the harvest of Christ, we endure through the trials of all harassment and helplessness. We are up for the challenge that lies ahead, empowered by the compassion of Christ’s own heart for us.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Reaping fruits
Harvested and healed, we get to value our role as harvesting healers. By the Holy Spirit God continues to change the world and all who are in it. Changed by God, strengthened by the Spirit, empowered by Christ, we have all the tools we need to be laborers in the world. We need take nothing along with us when we work to gather a harvest. All we need do is give to others what has been freely given to us — the good news that God is changing a broken world and making it anew. We need not be afraid to proclaim, for Jesus says, “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at the time.” Changed, we bring change to the lives of others by including the excluded, forgiving the sinful, healing broken relationships, proclaiming the good news. “You received without payment, give without payment.”


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