35 “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35–38 (ESV)
Matthew summarized in today’s text the teaching, preaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ (Matt. 5-9). The apostle also introduced the mission discourse of Matthew 10.
The Old Testament background Jesus drew from was Ezekiel 34:1-6. It was the LORD’s scathing rebuke of the faithless prophets and priests to Israel. Jesus compared the people as sheep without a shepherd.
“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” (Ezekiel 34:1–6 (ESV)
Another comparison Jesus used of was a land ready for harvest without laborers to bring in the crop. Jesus said the harvest of souls was great but the laborers were few.
“This little passage forms a bridge between the account of Jesus’ ministry in chs. 5–9 (summarized in v 35) and the extension of that ministry to his disciples in ch. 10. The need was too great for Jesus to meet alone, so he called on some of his closest followers to help him meet it. The basis of this mission was in compassion, a strong word for an emotional response which always results in caring action. The imagery of harvest (like that of fishing in 4:19) suggests also the call to win new disciples. This is the concern of God, as Lord of the harvest, and so he may properly be appealed to for the necessary workers. It is worth noting that those who are here called to pray are in the next chapter sent out themselves,” explains commentator Richard France.
“Christ, the Good Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), has enlisted many to help care for His flock and field, as we also see in today’s passage (Matt. 9:37–38). Clearly, says Jerome, “an abundant harvest represents all the believing multitude. The few laborers imply the apostles and their imitators who are sent to the harvest,” explains Dr. R. C. Sproul.
Where do you see a spiritual harvest of souls that needs the Lord’s laborers? Are you ready, willing and able to be such a laborer for the Lord? Have a blessed day in Christ.
Soli deo Gloria!