The Workers Are Few

He said to his disciples, "The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few

Matthew 9:37

I don’t know if it should bother me so much when people use this verse in context of evangelism. It sounds like we’re to treat people like a harvest in that we are supposed to snatch up and convert as many people as possible and as fast as we can. We usually think of the lack of workers as a lack of Christians. Every time we covert someone we get another worker to do the same job. This way of thinking puts the emphasis on the people who are being converted. That the harvest is somehow being lazy and the workers are trying their best but they are still few. But read the verse in its context:

Matthew 9:35-38
35 Jesus traveled through all the cities and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And wherever he went, he healed people of every sort of disease and illness. 36 He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn't know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. 37 He said to his disciples, "The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more workers for his fields."

This verse is talking a lot more about missions and helping those in need than it is about making more Christians. Jesus is looking out on the poorest of the poor. Their problems are huge and who is helping them? The wealthy religious leaders? No they are too busy following their trivial laws, ironically ignoring the greatest law, thinking that they will bring the Kingdom of God. Are the Great political leaders helping? No, their taxes are what cripples these people and bring them into poverty. Jesus sees this and understands and even has pity on the people’s problems. He knows that the workers are few so he calls His followers, as lowly as they ,may be to work this harvest. Not by creating more disciples of Jesus necessarily (although that may be the next result) but by feeding them, healing them, and responding to their needs. The harvest is now out of the hands of those who should have been doing it in the first place and now it is in the hands of Jesus’ followers. It is our task to respond now. It is our job. The workers are few so who will step up to the plate? Why not us?


Dan McGowan said…
Well, in reality this is not a matter of "either/or" as it seems to be discussed in this post - rather, it is a case of "plus/and." It is BOTH meeting the needs and calling others to repentance.
Dolores said…
I have to agree with Dan. I believe we are called to meet the needs of His people (Feed my sheep)in whatever way that may be. For some that is to literally feed them and for others it is to feed them spiritually. The harvest is plenty in both areas. Neither is supposed to be done to glorify ourselves though.
Agent X said…
I think I'd be inclined to see some both/and in this discussion too. However, if we are talking about mixing in a dualist style evangelism, then of course I think the whole thing is bunk. And if I were to be inclined to go with Wes on this, then I'd clarify the issue separating out the dualism.

My guess is that Wes is reacting against the pie-in-the-sky go-to-heaven-when-you-die type of evangelism. If that is the case, I actually stand firm with him on it, with the stipulation of clarification on dualism. I say this because, as I see it, modern western "Christian" evangelism has been reduced to getting people to accept a virtual fairytale as true, with no substance for either their lives in this world here and now, or for the world itself. We have traditionally exchanged real service to others for a cheap meaningless future "salvation" where some nothing god (whom you cannot see, touch, taste or smell) will save your immortal soul (which you cannot see, touch, taste or smell) by snatching it out of the present suffering (upon real death) into some other distant realm called heaven (which you have never seen, touched, tasted or smelled). It sounds like a whole lot of nothing to me. Not a fair trade.

When we go to people in great spiritual and physical need of ministry and offer them faith in our nothingness and then do little or nothing for their present needs, that is a sham. Especially if we then turn and ask for a contribution. And though Wes did not specify it in these terms, I feel reasonably sure his remarks were meant to cover this extreme as well as any lesser extremes.

So I go with Dan and Dolores (aka mom ;)) if this stipulation is made, because I actually think that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God - a new world order in the here-n-now - in which humans love God, their Creator and rightful sovereign, and each other with forgiving love and shalom, is made along with any other relieving of suffering, it is entirely appropriate and basically mandatory. I am not saying it should come first, in the form of long winded sermons to hungry people who really need to eat, or to cold people who really need in a warm house before they are served. But it is entirely appropriate to offer service saying, "Jesus blesses you." or something like that, even if nothing else is said.

I took an evangelism course in college where we students drove around Abilene, TX on a hot spring day with a freezer chest full of 25 cent soda pops iced down looking for hot people to give them too. We found a road construction outfit placing hot tarmac on a busy street at about 2 in the afternoon. We walked up to the guy who seemed in charge and said, "We are doing a good deed for Jesus today. Can we pass out pops to the men?" He was stunned. He said "Yeah!!!" Then he whistled for all these guys to come over and grab a drink. Men came pouring out of holes and trucks and heavy equipment to come grab a drink. One of them whipped out a $20 bill. I said, "No it is a gift from Jesus." He said, "I know. I just want you to keep doing this. Go find more people to do this for." We did.

In this case, we only did a small gesture. But it spoke very loudly of the Kingdom of God. And we spoke the name - Jesus - so there was no confusion about it coming from Mohammed or anyone else. The response was great. All this without delivering a sermon, and especially without a bunch of dualist bunk. (though many there easily might have held such views)

I have not gone to reread the passage Wes has offered here. I have not exegeted it for myself. I suppose I should before making such a long comment on it. However, based on the bit that Wes has offered, the prima facie case suggests that evangelism per se is not the issue here. However, a broader question might be - What issues are not touched by evangelism some how?

Probably not many.

It seems that it might be important to also stipulate, given my story, that we were planting seeds in some cases, watering in others, though to my knowledge none of us students actually havested. We also will likely never know just who we planted with and who we watered with, except perhaps for the guy who gave us more money. He seemed to have already been planted. But who knows, except God, whether that night some or one of those very men might have been convicted of his need to become a Christian, in part, because of the Kingdom service we gave. And God is the only one who needs to know that. But if that were true, and certainly that is possible, then we did play a part in the harvest, even if indirectly.

Well, you get the gist now. I will shut my mouth. Good post, Wes. As always. And very thought provoking, which keeps blogging interesting to say the least....

Many blessings...
wellis68 said…
Very good thoughts all!

I agree with you dan but I think Mike clarified my thoughts about as good as I could have. I'm still talking about evangelism but I'm talking about a more holistic evangelism than we've seen in recent past. The harvest to me (and here might be a place where Mike and I part ways slightly) is not, in this passage, acceptance of Jesus' teachings rather acceptence of His help, His compassion. This verse, therefore has been taken out of context even if it is appropriate to see our respondesbility (and I see that it is) to spread Jesus' teachings. A better verse for this might be the great commission, which commands us to make disciples of all nations, rather than this one. And making disciples is not about some "pie-in-the-sky." It is truly about following Jesus teachings here and now which means being loving, compassionate, humble, forgiving, and just among other things.

Once again, great thoughts!
Anonymous said…
Argh! i never really looked so much at it that way until now. i used to feel the need to convert others so they could help out because THE HARVEST IS GREAT! i was so focused on the harvest when the call was directed to THE WORKERS. Jesus prayed for more WORKERS! indeed there is no lack of Christians. Only a lack of those who are willing to go out. Yes and amen, the greater purpose is the HARVEST, but the greater act should come from us who already believe.
Anonymous said…
What good is to only help the poor in this life...when Jesus came to save them FOREVER so they can have eternal PEACE and ETERNAL LIFE. Not just for now.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son for whomsoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life! John 3:16

Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”