Today I read a passage very familiar to me.
When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (36-38)
Two things struck me that I had never thought of before. Matthew says that the people were distressed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd. The words “distressed and dejected” have the idea of being torn and cast down.
As I thought of that image, I then recalled what Jesus had said to the Pharisees earlier in the chapter.
Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. (13)
Many of the sheep the shepherds raised in Israel were meant to be used as sacrifices. But in Jesus’ eyes, these torn and cast down sheep were not just meant for the sacrificial altar. Jesus had a heart filled with compassion for these sheep and he longed to show mercy to them. To care for them. To heal their wounds.
And that’s what he did.
But living as a man on earth, there was a limit to what he could do. And so he sent out his disciples to reach out to the mass of lost sheep scattered throughout Israel. And then he sent 72 more people out so that they could reach even more sheep.
But before doing so, he told his disciples to pray that God would send out more workers.
That word “send” is a very interesting one. It literally means, “drive out.” It’s the word that is often used for driving out demons. Interestingly enough, it’s the same word that is used for the Holy Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted.
And here, Jesus says, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would drive more workers out into the harvest field.”
It’s what God did with the early church when they got too comfortable doing “church” in Jerusalem. Jesus had told them to go out into the whole world and preach the gospel. They hadn’t even gotten as far as Samaria yet. Many of them were still stuck in Jerusalem. So God used persecution to drive them out of Jerusalem. The result? They started sharing the gospel everywhere they went. (Acts 8:1-4).
Is it possible that God needs to do that to his people again? How many of us, (and I include myself in this), are far too comfortable with our lives? How many of us lack the compassion for the torn and cast down as Jesus was?
Lord of the harvest, drive out more workers out of their comfort zones and into the harvest field. Give them your heart.
Give me your heart. Here am I. Send me.