Reliance

 
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (Isaiah 66:10-14, Psalm 66:1-9)
 
Have you ever had a passage of Scripture jump up at you, off the page? It’s a very powerful experience. It’s also quite a surprising one when the passage is only a few words that you hadn’t paid much attention to before. Here’s the longer passage – see if you can guess what jumped out at me:
 
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.  He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Luke 10:1-2).
 
It was this phrase that struck me: “… ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Now, at first glance these words seem unsurprising; but that’s because of their formality. What’s actually being said here is this:
 
I’m sending you out on a mission; but such is the urgency of this mission, and such is its difficulty (not to mention, danger!) that if I were you, I’d start asking (begging, really!) that there be more of you doing this – you’ll need all the help you can get! So, start praying!
 
That’s the sense of urgency in this passage (what one scholar calls, a cosmic drama). This is a second mission. Luke and the other Gospel writers describe Jesus sending out the twelve on a mission (Luke 9:51), but only Luke gives this account.  It’s such an important story to Luke, that he records Jesus’ reference to it at the last Supper (22:35): “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” And it’s that very lack of preparation (purse, bag, sandals), and single-mindedness (“… greet no one on the road” vs. 4) that gives us the sense of urgency.
 
Being city folks – for the most part – few of us have any understanding of the urgency involved in bringing in a harvest. Especially in the days before mechanization, when harvesting was a time-consuming event, the pressure to safely gather in all the crops before a storm destroyed them, or a debilitating illness slowed you down, was enormous. Time was of the essence. This sense of urgency is also implied by the apocalyptic nature of the image of reaping:            
  • So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped (Revelation 14:16)
  • and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels (Matthew 13:35).
  • Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting (John 4:35).
Along with the urgency, there is hostility: “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves (vs. 3)  “… whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you (vs. 10-11).  “… whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (vs. 16).
 
Although this account tells of events that happened prior to the formation of Luke’s faith community, its concepts would be all too familiar to that community – and to ours!  Yet, so too should the words of hope which they contain:
… if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person (vs. 6).
Whoever listens to you listens to me (vs. 16).
 
In this text we see that a total reliance on God is a hallmark of the ones who answer the call to labor at the harvest. Yet, they of all people know how few laborers have answered the call. As one who has served on many a Stewardship Committee; developed many a Time & Talent survey; launched (or tried to launch) new ministries; beat the bushes for folks to sign up for fellowship hours and the like… I’ve prayed mightily for “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (vs. 2). In fact, as I type these words, I’m praying hard right now!