The Economy and the Harvest

November 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Economy

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How many times have you heard a sermon framed around Jesus’ comments about the harvest? The ones I’ve heard usually come around to making the point that we should be involved in the harvest, tell everybody around us, all the time, about Jesus.

I’d like to ask you to read on as I look at this section of scripture more closely because I believe that it not only generally applies to all times, but it specifically applies to today as our world goes through a difficult financial time.

Matthew, Luke and John all record Jesus’ words about the Lord of the Harvest, but they all put them in a slightly different context. It’s likely that Jesus talked to his disciples about this more than once. I’d like to start with Matthew’s account.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35 – 38)

Notice that before Jesus said that the harvest (of people) was plentiful, the scripture gives us a glimpse of what he was thinking and why he said what he did. He saw the crowds and their situation, that they were harassed and helpless, and he had compassion on them. Jesus said the harvest was plentiful because of the state that the people of his time were in.

Let’s take a look at what the people who Jesus was looking at were going through. I’m not a historian but it doesn’t take much research to come up with a general picture. Not only were the people of Palestine under the heel of the Roman Empire, they were also suffering financially for it. First of all, the reason why tax collectors were hated was because the Roman empire was taxing the people beyond their means to pay. Add on top of that the taxes that Herod was inflicting on the people and the burden was unbearable.

Next, let’s look at loans and interest. The Jewish law limited interest by outlining when it could and could not be charged and how much could be charged. However, the Romans had no such laws and many of the Jewish people had left God’s laws behind in favor of greater profits. Some accounts say that interest rates were as high as 50%.

Here’s what was happening. The Romans demanded that their taxes be paid with money. Many of those who lived in this agrarian society didn’t have money, so they had to borrow it. The only way they could borrow money was to take out a mortgage on their property. Between rising taxes and rising interest rates, the property owners would end up in foreclosure and lose their land. As the rich got more and more land through economies of scale and the use of slaves to work their vast farms, they prospered and sent more and more families off their lands. Because those foreclosed on had no trade and slave labor was so cheap, many became destitute.

The system made the rich, richer – and the poor, poorer. The poorer you got, the more you needed loans and the higher the rate of interest you were charged. So financial devastation started due to ill-advised loans at high interest rates resulting in foreclosures in a system that favored the rich. Sound familiar?

Jesus saw that many of the people who flocked to him were sick, oppressed, financially devastated and in bad need of God’s love and intervention. That’s when he concluded that the fields were ready for harvest. Remember, it’s God’s goodness that leads us to repentance. Jesus knew (as he outlined in the story of the prodigal son) that many people don’t look up until they come to the end of their rope. When they do, God is there ready to show them his love (Jesus had compassion on them) and meet them where they are.

I believe that we are now in a time where again, the fields are getting white and ready for harvest. Although financial difficulties aren’t pleasant, we as Christians know that if we trust God, he’ll meet our needs. So should we be spending our time complaining about the times, or should we be praying that the Lord of the harvest send workers into the harvest?

In John 4, we find Jesus also talking about the harvest. He’s just finished talking to the woman at the well and is waiting for her return. He probably knows that she’s about to lead the whole village out to see him. The disciples offer him something to eat and he refuses saying, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” Then he went on to talk about the harvest.

Was Jesus saying that when we’re doing God’s will, we don’t need to eat? No, I believe that he was contrasting a physical harvest to a spiritual one and telling us that the spiritual one is of far greater importance. If we have to tighten our belts and learn to rely on God a little more for the sake of a spiritual harvest, it’s well worth it.

I know I’ve blogged on for a bit, but stick with me a little further. If we are in, or going into a time of harvest as I believe, what do we need to do besides pray? Let me return to those sermons we hear so often on Jesus’ words about the harvest.

It’s pointed out to us that Jesus said ‘pray for more workers’, then he immediately sent the ones he was talking to out to work. The sermon’s conclusion, when you pray, be willing to be sent. However, let’s go a little deeper. Why would Jesus tell them to pray and then instruct them to go? Why not just send them? They probably didn’t even have time to pray before he sent them.

I think Jesus did this as a reminder to them and to us that we are not in charge of the harvest. He is the Lord of the harvest and he is in charge of the times. He is the one who prepares the harvest and directs the workers. We are to pray that THE LORD SENDS workers into HIS harvest. That’s the emphasis.

We of course can gear up to help the poor and reach out to the hurting. We’ve been given those basic tasks. But more importantly, we need to pray and ask the Lord to send the workers that he needs to send, to do what he knows needs to be done, to reach those he knows are ready, in this time. Then like the disciples, we need to wait on our instructions and see what he wants us to do. Don’t worry about how you’ll get by, he’ll meet your needs. Don’t worry about how you’ll get it done, he empowered his disciples and sent them out with nothing, and don’t worry about how he’ll direct you. If you’re open to his direction and praying about the harvest, he’ll find a way to show you what to do. You may even already know.

And remember, as you go, the Gospel isn’t about populating our churches. It’s about God reaching out in love, wanting to adopt the lost and care for those who are hurting. We bring them to church so that they’re close enough to receive God’s love and help through us.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

For help with teaching your children about their Faith, check out Teaching Your Child to Pray.





(RICK OSBORNE / Christian Author, Speaker & Dad)