This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for May 7 2018.
There is a fairly old debate concerning modern Christian mission: Should priority be given to gospel preaching or to social action? One side will argue that people won’t listen to good news while they wonder whether they will eat today. The other side will retort that full bellies don’t substitute faith and repentance. Each side accuses the other of neglecting one or the other of these. Stereotypes abound, likely with some kernel of truth, but balanced, faithful Christian servants do know and practice both these things.
But there is a third action that mission requires. We all agree it is important, but probably fail to do it much: pray. In Matthew 9:35-38 Jesus sees crowds of people. They suffer many problems, and are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” ‘Compassion’ (a mild translation of a rather earthy Greek word) wells up within him. He sees that there are many people who will willingly receive the kingship of God and his blessings. What will he do? His choice of action is neither to speak truth to them nor to offer helping hands. Instead, he turns to his disciples and instructs them: “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
The most important thing in view of a lost and broken world is to pray, and pray earnestly. It is the Lord who must send his workers. Jesus will send his labourers at the right time and place to where he wants fields ploughed, seed sown and harvests reaped. He sends them with both truth and kindness, with words and gifts (cf. Matthew 10:7-8). But first we must be moved to pray. The challenge for us is to see the broken, lost and annoying world around us as Jesus sees it, and to be moved within ourselves as Jesus was. Only then will we do first what Jesus asked first.