by Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, FSP
In this month’s Lectio Divina, we are meditating together on an often-quoted passage of the Gospel of Matthew (9:35-38). “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
When we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, we frequently hear or use these words of Jesus. Our Lectio Divina, or “holy reading” of this familiar text, will center on a very small word—a word that is a key, a hinge between Jesus’s words and his actions—the word "then."
What Is the "Good News"?
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few…’ ” (emphasis added). "Then" points us to what Jesus was doing before he spoke to the disciples. I suppose we could say that he was having a typical “Jesus day”: teaching, proclaiming the Gospel, and healing. Jesus is doing the will of the Father, bringing the good news to people. What is this good news? God is real! God is your Father! And your Father loves you! In all his teaching, preaching, and healing, Jesus proclaims the love of God that caresses us, binds up our wounds, and lights up every corner of our lives.
What was happening in Christ's heart before he spoke these words? “His heart was moved with pity….” Jesus was feeling with the crowd—not with the crowd as a nameless group of people, but with each person present in that crowd. He was feeling their needs, their struggles, their joys, their desires. As he gazed in the eyes of each person there, he could see past everything on the surface, past the impressions they were trying to put forward. He could see who they really were, what was really important to them, what made them into the people they were. He saw them, and he loved them. His heart was moved.
Out of this, then Jesus spoke. His words came out of what he felt as he moved through the crowd, teaching and healing. These words came straight from his heart: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” It is worth noting the elements of what Jesus is saying here, and the order in which he expresses these.
First, Jesus expresses what he sees: “The harvest is abundant.” What exactly is this harvest? It is a harvest of love. Jesus, sent by the Father, wants to gather our hearts and the hearts of all people to himself. For him, the harvest is unlimited! And how does he gather our hearts? That is where his next words come in. He says, “…the laborers are few.” Love attracts love. Jesus' love for us is what attracts us to him, and people can encounter Christ's love most often through the "laborers" that he sends out – that is, through his disciples. Jesus needs laborers!
What is Jesus Asking Me to Do?
What Jesus tells us to do next might not be what comes naturally to us, but it is always Jesus’s default response: pray! Where we might want to move right into action, Jesus tells us to pray: “…ask the master of the harvest.” This brings to mind another expression of Jesus, in which he assures us that, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8). Jesus is not interested in a factory that produces laborers for the harvest. He is interested in drawing us into relationship with the Father. Our praying, our asking “the master of the harvest,” puts us in a fundamental relationship of dependence, trust, and love of our heavenly Father.
Listening with Jesus
“Ask…to send out laborers for his harvest.” Jesus sends us to draw others to him because we have been first drawn to him. Once we have watched Jesus at work and seen the motives of his heart, once we have been attracted to Christ and given ourselves to him in trust, then we cannot help but invite others to follow him. The co-foundress of my community, Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, once wrote, “Let us see to it that our heart is filled with God so as to bring him to souls. How beautiful and holy it is to give Jesus to souls—that Jesus whom we want to always keep in the center of our heart.”
We can prepare to serve the Lord of the harvest with prayer, meditation, listening to the voice of Jesus, and listening with Jesus to the needs of those around us. When we allow ourselves to be drawn to Jesus, then we start to see with his eyes, love with his heart, and invite others to do the same.
A Discerner's Prayer
Jesus, Master of the harvest, thank you for the gentleness of your call. Thank you for allowing me to share in your mission. Let every day and every moment draw me more toward you, so that my presence may draw others to you. Amen.
Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, FSP, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She professed her vows in January 2012 and is currently studying in Italy in preparation for her perpetual vows.