The Urgent Harvest

by Lois Tverberg

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. Luke 10:1-4

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go to the people of the villages around them, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God. He explained this work as if it were harvest time. The common reading of this passage equates the “harvest” to the idea of reaping souls that are waiting to hear the Gospel and be saved, like fruit ready to be picked and brought into the barn.

Workers in field

While this picture is perfectly true, Jesus may have had a different idea in mind here. Some background knowledge about farming helps us understand the picture better. After weeks of waiting for the crops to mature, a farmer has only days to gather the ripened crop before it begins to spoil in the field or the rains ruin it. Birds, animals and human thieves also threaten to take their toll of the valuable harvest. Farmers will hire as many workers as they can find and even pay them a premium, because time is of the essence. 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)

The harvest imagery better fits the context of Jesus’ words when we understand it as a message of urgency. He instructed his disciples not to take extra money, clothing, or greet anyone along the way. As preachers of Torah, they would have been able to expect hospitality as they traveled. Their food and housing needs would be met by the villages they preached in. So Jesus told them to travel light, unencumbered by extra provisions, and not to be distracted by long conversations with friends they met along the way. Both would delay them from their pressing assignment.

Likewise, Jesus is saying that our mission has great urgency—there’s much that God desires us to do, and we have less time to get it done than we think! We must eagerly engage every opportunity to carry out his work. As Paul says,

“Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16).

Photo: Bridgestone Museum of Art