Is it possible to become so concerned with details and logistics that we lose sight of our overarching purpose? Just ask virtually anyone who works in a governmental bureaucracy. Or anyone in a denominational staff position. Or . . .. You get the picture. Consider the concluding portion of an among Jesus, his closest followers, and a group of second-class citizens known as Samaritans.
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Did you ever wonder why it took twelve guys to go and find some lunch for themselves and for Jesus? No one in the group was willing to stay with Jesus, sending the others to do the procurement. Were they afraid of “those people” whose territory they were passing through? Was strength in numbers the thought, in case of an encounter with a hard-nosed group of youths in this section usually avoided by upstanding Jews?
While twelve were off doing the leg-work, the behind-the-scenes things we assign to “go-fors” the real ministry was happening without their input. Jesus would describe it to them in terms of fields they didn’t plant, but nonetheless could assist in harvesting. While they were away looking for food, ministry–the spread of the word about Jesus, was going on without them. Jesus had encountered one of their own among the Samaritans, and through her personal accounting of the incident many were encouraged to come and find Jesus themselves. She, not the disciples, planted the seed. They were busy tending to the needs of the travel party.
It is always tempting to believe that it is by our planning, organizing, and executing well-developed, carefully considered strategies for building the kingdom, growing the church, “winning people to Christ” that the work of Christ is accomplished. In the meantime the hurting, abused woman under our noses is never considered as the place where our Lord is witnessed to. I wonder how many people the disciples passed by without acknowledging on their procurement mission? I know that we, each of us, pass by people every day, many of them needing our conversation to draw them to the possibility that there is hope for them and for their lives and loves ones. One woman with issues (and by the way, women did not initiate divorces in that time), and a whole town interested in hearing Jesus; twelve disciples and something for lunch so ministry could happen when they would arrive at a nicer place.
How well do you and I recognize harvests when we see them? Is it better plans that we need, or is it more sensitive spirits? Is it familiarity with the structure, or willingness to become familiar with the other that we truly need?
Today’s thoughts as we continue a season of repentance.