"The harvest truly is great, but the workers are few." -Matthew 9:37
Reading a book on local eating I came across an incorrect version of this benediction. It read, "The harvest is plentiful and the labors few." Ha!
Our first frost came this week. If you garden you know the mad dash the night before a frost is supposed to hit. You gather up everything because whatever's left will be ruined. Only the heartier leafy greens and roots can take a bit of frosting. So you take everything else. The green tomatoes, the baby squash, bitty lettuce leafs. And if you are a gardener you know that a plentiful harvest is a lot of work. A bountiful harvest with little labor? Not gonna happen.
What was the point of Yeshua announcing this? He didn't say much that falls under the 'common sense' category, and I struggle to believe that food was so abundant in the fields and vineyards of Israel that it was left to rot for want of harvesters. Plus, an actual commandment is to NOT harvest your fields too well, but to leave some of the grain and grapes behind for the poor. So if we take this strictly as an agriculture statement it doesn't make much sense. The fields are abundant but workers are few? What does that mean?
If we take it as a parable we can understand more. To begin with, Yeshua is hinting that there is something to be gathered that most of us are unaware of. Secondly, there aren't workers for the fields because most people don't realize there is a need.
But a freeze is coming to your garden? You realize the need and you gather the harvest. Food growers tend to do whatever it takes. I moved more weight in squash than I can at the gym. You recruit your family to help out. Shine car headlights on the garden to work after dark. A farmer friend told me he once stayed in the tractor for 36 hours straight to beat a bad storm. Typically, the grains and vegetables of the earth have plenty of harvesters.
But what is Yeshua saying? There's something that needs gathered in that most of us are missing.
This verse appears in Luke as well as Matthew. Taking a closer look at the context gives us a better idea of what he means. Matthew 9:35 tells us Yeshua traveled from village to village proclaiming the Besorah of the malchut and healing the sickness and disease in the people. Verse 36 tells us he saw the multitudes of people and had compassion on them because they were scattered abroad. In Luke 10, immediately after saying, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few," Yeshua sends his disciples to share the Besorah (good news).
"Scattered abroad," is a phrase used hundreds of times throughout Scripture as a threat, warning, and fact. "Scattered abroad," is what happened to the Northern Kingdom of Israel when it was sent into exile, and in a more limited way when Judah was exiled from the land. (Though, by Yeshua's time much of the house of Judah had returned.) The tribe of Ephraim and the Northern Kingdom is still, in every sense, scattered abroad. When he says the fields are ready for harvest, Yeshua is talking about the lost tribes of Israel! In Luke 10 he mentions three cities in particular: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernicum. These are three cities in the Northern part of Israel's territory. Historically they were occupied by tribes other than Judah. Though much of the Northern tribes were exiled, many still lived in the area at the time of Yeshua.
This is what Yeshua wants gathered in: the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He sent his disciples to Ephraim, to Manasseh, to Zebulon. He is after Israel's lost tribes, who have been scattered amongst the nations. He wants to bring them back.
Doesn't this understanding of the fields make more sense? The world has plenty of people to gather in food. While there are lots of missionaries, how many of them are reaching out to the house of Ephraim? Bringing back the lost tribes into covenant with YHWH doesn't occur to most of us, but it is the utmost desire of Yeshua!
Make tefillah to the Master of the harvest, that He will send forth workers into His harvest.