When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:36-38
Before flying home from the Annual Conference a few weeks ago, I spent a day in New York City. I’m a people-watcher, and to say that I had a few people to watch that day is a gross understatement. I felt like I spent the entire day in a crowd. The sidewalks, the bakery, the subway, the park, and the baseball stadium were all filled with people. And every single demographic was represented in these crowds.
It’s impossible and unfair to judge a person’s soul really anytime, but especially after a chance, and usually silent, encounter in a big city. However, I found myself often wondering whether these strangers sharing my personal space knew about Jesus. There is no doubt that some of them did! There is also no doubt that many of them did not. And that’s sad. Matthew 9:36 tells us that Jesus had compassion when He saw the crowds, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus had pity for them. In fact, the Greek word that Matthew uses there to describe Jesus’ disposition toward the crowds indicates that He was deeply moved from the inside. In other words, Jesus’ reaction when He saw the crowds was marked by strong emotion and care, specifically for their general waywardness, like a sheep without a shepherd.
Fargo has crowds too. They may not be as big as the ones in New York City, but they are getting bigger, and increasingly diverse. In many ways, that’s a good thing! But bigger crowds also means that there are more people who need to hear the Gospel. Nowadays, sharing the Gospel with foreign cultures doesn’t require a person to move to the other side of the world. It can happen by talking over the fence in your back yard! In addition, we live in a time where more and more people are unchurched and have never heard the Gospel, and we live in a community filled with – yes, lots of good churches – but also filled with churches proclaiming a false gospel or no gospel at all. Every day, we come in contact with people who are living this life, like sheep without a shepherd.
What do we do about that? This week, a crowd has gathered every evening at church, and they have heard that Gospel. I praise God for the work of our Vacation Bible School program! Every Sunday morning, a crowd gathers, and they hear the Gospel. I thank God for the regular ministry of Word and Sacrament in our congregation, and it’s important to remember that it is happening and to be encouraged by that.
And then let’s find ways to build and grow on the ministry here! As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful.” There are plenty of souls in your neighborhood, your workplace, your family, your grocery store, that need to hear the Gospel. Pray for God’s leading in how He can use you to labor in this harvest. Pray for one another in that respect also! Yes, we need pastors, but this call of Jesus to pray for more laborers includes more than pastors. As a note in my Study Bible puts it, “All Christians are called to be witnesses of the surpassing compassion Jesus shows them by the forgiveness, life, and salvation He offers.”
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he expressed joy for their “partnership in the Gospel.” It is a joy for us to have one another as partners in the Gospel, co-laborers in this harvest, and I’m excited to see how God continues to bless the work here and lead us into more harvesting work!