God of each moment, God of all time: years from now 2020 will still be present in our collective memory; not just for ourselves or our families or this town, or this nation, but for all people, everywhere. May this shared experience, with its sorrow, its anxiety, its lessons and revelations be the beginning of a new ‘we,’ the us you’ve been with from the start. Amen.
When Jesus saw the crowds, Matthew writes, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. At this point in the gospel, we’ve been hearing one healing story after another, breathlessly recounting the fairly energetic public ministry in which Jesus is engaged. And yet here it’s as if Jesus pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath, and allows himself to be momentarily overwhelmed. The words used to describe the crowds cut straight to the heart. The people are weary, disoriented, perhaps, and dejected – literally, lying down, as animals lie down under trees, as if they can only wait for the next thing to happen. And so Jesus turns to the disciples. For the first time in the gospel, he asks them to do something. He asks them to ask God for what is now needed. The harvest is plentiful, he tells them, looking around, but the labourers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers. Photo by Lasseter Winery on Unsplash Now I don’t think this is simply about the crowds. This is also about the disciples. So Jesus asks them to ask for what is needed. But then he gathers the twelve named disciples around him and says: Look. Have you figured this out yet? You are what is needed. You are about to become yourselves an early harvest, an answer to your own prayer. Perhaps this simple story has a hopeful resonance for us in uncertain and occasionally overwhelming times. And in the moments when we are no strangers to weariness and disorientation, Jesus invites us to notice what is ripe, what is ready to be harvested, what is the thing to do now; to ask for what is needed, and to make ourselves available to be part of the answer.
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash
In disorienting times, the stories of our faith teach us to expect not certainty, but manna, the food given each morning, but only in quantities sufficient for the day. We are not offered a clear roadmap for the months ahead, but we are given the courage to ask for the bread we need, just for today. I just want everything to go back to normal, we hear some people saying. Maybe we even say it ourselves. Though we seem to forget that some aspects of that normal are precisely what brought us here. Everything will be different now, we hear other people saying. We don’t ever want to go back to the way we used to do things. Maybe that’s what we are hoping for, too. But in between a past to which we can never return – and we don’t need a pandemic to teach us that – and a future into which we can enter with hope and engagement but can never determine, lies the harvest. The ripe wheat which needs to be gathered in, now; the sweet grapes which need to be plucked from the vine, today. Before it is too late. Bread for eating, as the psalmist says, and wine for rejoicing. Both of which will continue to nourish the lives of sometimes weary or disoriented disciples in an in–between time. Lives that by the power of the risen Christ in us will bend toward the healing, and the laughter, we all need. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus says, but the labourers are few. Therefore ask the Lord for what is needed. And to God be the glory.