Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

I recall conversing with a top management staff of a reputable establishment some time ago, and the issue of their need for workers came up, so I asked, “Why is your organization not employing more people since you lack workers?

Responding to me, the man laughed and said, “Father, it may surprise you that most of the people who apply are not employable, and even some who are employable are incompetent and not even ready to learn.” To conclude, he said. “The workforce is the biggest issue, not the customers. We are not lacking workers but competent ones.

Now we can understand why most organizations, businesses, and institutions spend resources to advertise job vacancies. Afterward, they spend even more to set up further written or oral interviews for the short-listed few to get the right people into strategic positions. The success of an organization is not in its name but in the aptitude and dexterity of the workers.

What is the Harvest?

In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 9:36-10:1-8) of this Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), we hear our Lord Jesus Christ make this emotional statement from a heart touched with pity while sighting the crowd, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

We have a few things to clarify and understand from our Lord’s statement. First, our Lord Jesus Christ was talking about harvest. We understand harvest generally as both the season and process of gathering what was previously planted. Note also that harvest involves separating real produce from the chaff. So, what is the harvest here?

The narrative starts by telling us that there was a crowd, and if we go back to this section of Matthew’s Gospel, we will discover that it is the same crowd that witnessed the Sermon on the Mount starting from the fifth Chapter of Matthew.

After healing the two demoniacs, the same crowd waited for Jesus to return from the Gadarenes. The same crowd witnessed a series of healing, including the healing of the paralyzed man, the conversion of Matthew, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, and the raising of the Synagogue official’s daughter to life.

Notice that Jesus noticed that the crowd is ripe enough to be harvested, but only a few have the competence to carry out the enterprise. Upon this realization, Jesus appointed twelve men out of his many followers to begin the project of harvesting souls, including Matthew, who was recently called. It is not about who came first but who is ready and willing.

The Laborers are Shepherds        

In the Gospel Reading, we learn that our Lord saw a crowd of people looking like sheep without a shepherd. On account of this reality, Jesus passionately declared that the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few. Hence the call to ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest.

From the words of our Lord Jesus, we understand that laborers are few because only a few can function as shepherds. Typically, the work of a shepherd is largely selfless and self-giving, and that explains why David could use it to describe what God does (Psalm 23), and Jesus would use “the good shepherd” to describe himself (John 10:11).

From a broad perspective, we can understand that God is looking for purposeful shepherds of souls. Therefore, it is not about the number of laborers but the quality of commitment.   

Pope St. Gregory the Great once said that the challenge is not on the scarcity of those who should hear the word of God but the fewness of the right people who should preach the word to them. There are many sheep but a few committed shepherds, in other words, laborers.

Becoming Committed Shepherds of the Sheep

Adopt the Laborer Mentality: To clarify the matter, many people are out there in the harvest, but only a few are laborers. The word laborer rings a bell. By definition, a laborer is an unskilled worker. In our context here, however, the laborer is one whose strength and skill come from God. The laborer is one whose help comes from God (Psalm 121:1-2) and not from some deceptive antics.

The Way of Obedience: The truest test of a good leader is the ability to follow. Every shepherd should also be a good sheep, and the hallmark of a good sheep is obedience. In the First Reading (Exodus 19:2-6a), God instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel to harken to His voice and keep His covenant as his special possession and become a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

In the Gospel narrative, our Lord Jesus Christ instructed the disciples to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not to go into the pagan territory or Samaritan town; why? It was not yet time. Time shall come when he would tell them to go to all nations and the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19, Acts 1:8). So, there is a call to obey the missionary strategy.

The Way of Commitment: The level and depth of commitment make the shepherd’s work worthwhile. Commitment has to do with intentional involvement beyond the cost. Recall that Jesus said to them that without you have received; without cost, you are to give.

Moving Forward: We are all Laborers.

It is very easy to believe that the laborers for the harvest refer only to those called to the ministerial priesthood. However, beyond the twelve apostles, recall that Jesus also sent seventy-two others into the mission (Luke 10:1). The simple fact here is that we all are called to the mission as laborers with various areas of engagement.

The few laborers could be those ready and willing to support others with their resources and prayers; there is something like the labor of love. Recall that Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward (Matt. 10:41).

There are no excuses, the harvest is abundant, and that is wherever there are souls to be saved. Starting from our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and wherever we find ourselves. The best way to assist in the harvest of the Lord is to begin seeing ourselves as laborers, and of course, the Lord would use the person who is ready and willing.

God bless you!   

Fr. Bonnie.

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