Read: Matthew 9:35-38
Israel during the first century was time of political and religious uncertainty with many competing religious and political factions. For the common person, knowing where to lend ones allegiance was daunting task. Did they give it to the Pharisees? Sadducees? Romans? Zealots? None of the above? When Jesus surveyed the landscape though, he saw this and had compassion – the people were lost “like a sheep without a shepherd”. At some point in the midst of all this, the leaders of the community had lost their influence over the people and had become concerned with other things other than leading the people in godliness and right living. Ezekiel warned of such a time in Ezekiel 34, where God stands against the shepherd, yet promises that he himself will come and seek out the his sheep.
In light of this, Jesus declares that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few and that one should pray that the Lord of the Harvest – Jesus – send out more workers. This motif is typically associated with a grain harvest, but here in the context it is probably talking about the time of year when the sheep would be gather for shearing, which required a lot of extra hired hands above and beyond the role of the shepherd to accomplish.
The motif of Jesus as shepherd is common in the New Testament. John 10 uses the same kind of metaphors talking about sheep, and therein Jesus declares that he us the “Good Shepherd”. Hebrews 13:20 calls him the “Great Shepherd” and 1 Peter 5:4 calls him the “Chief Shepherd”. This motif was obviously something that Jesus taught his disciples concerning the nature of those that lead and those that follow. In his disciple-making model, Jesus follows his exhortation to pray with the command to go in Matthew 10:1-5, wherein the disciples who had seen Jesus demonstrate his authority over all matters in chapters 7,8, and 9 are given the same authority, which culminates in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 when he declares that he has all authority, and he sends them out.
Christians today are among the workers that Jesus is sending. Like he said to the disciples, Christians are to be about the work of both praying and going. They pray to the Lord to send out workers and in some cases become workers themselves. In all cases though, every Christian plays a part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Lord, send more workers into your harvest!