A passage came to mind the other day, but when I started to think about it, it didn’t make sense. Something about the story didn’t add up. It was a familiar enough passage, but suddenly I was stopped in my tracks by some of the details. Has that ever happened to you? I love it when it does, because it reminds me that I don’t have all of God’s word figured out & that I need to commit to continuing to study, learn, and apply it to my life.
The passage that came to mind was this: “Look at the fields; they are white unto harvest.” At least that is how I remembered the passage. But what threw me off was the reality of the statement. Really? The fields were white unto harvest? Wasn’t Jesus talking about Israel here? The idea that Israel was somehow ready as a harvest completely flew in the face of everything I read in the New Testament about the spiritual state of the nation-state at that time!
They seemed to be a people who were divided spiritually: some following John the Baptizer, some following the Pharisees & religious leadership, & some enamored with Jesus–at least in his miracles & teaching. But Israel seemed a far cry from a nation who were ready to be harvested, at least in the way we typically think about the harvest. It just didn’t add up. So, I looked it up in my Bible.
And I was surprised at what I found.
The first thing that surprise me was where I found it. I had remembered the context to be when Jesus sent out his disciples and had told them the harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few. And that they should pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers. You know, the typical Missions’ Conference passage?
But that wasn’t the context at all.
No, the context here followed on the heels of Jesus’ interaction in Samaria with the woman at the well in John 4. After having talked with the woman, his disciples approached him about whether he’d eaten anything. Jesus, in his usually cryptic fashion, replied that his
food was to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
Fair enough. The disciples probably didn’t get it, but that was usual. But it was after this statement that he adds his comments about the harvest. Specifically, this is what he said,
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.
What did this have to do with whether he had eaten? Well, ultimately nothing–except to reinforce his statement that his food is to do the Father’s will. Jesus wanted his disciples to know not only that they could be satisfied by doing the Father’s will, but that the fields were filled with an all-satisfying harvest beyond anything they had done themselves.
I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.
Wow! Did you see that? Not only could they be satisfied by doing the will of the Father, but Jesus has actually sent them to reap a harvest they have not labored for; they could be satisfied through the obedience of others who had done the Father’s will, too.
But, I was still stopped in my tracks: What was this harvest? Jesus was in the middle of Samaria. Sure, he had talked to one woman and had laid out her sordid history all before her, but where was the harvest?
The answer is unambiguously found in the next verses, John 4:39-42:
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” so when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. 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.”
The disciples must have been blown away! I’m blown away! This wasn’t even Israel, the nation-state, a place we expect to see the hand of God moving. This was Samaria of all places. Are my Pharisee colors bleeding through here? How is it that the fields were white in Samaria?
Simple, because the Son of Man was doing the will of him who sent him. He had stopped and talked to a woman. A woman you and I would have gone well out of our way to avoid and probably slander after we had rejoined our comrades. This is not the way of Jesus.
He told me all that I ever did.
And so, we are hopeful that Jesus, as he is going with us, goes before us too, so that we might be overwhelmingly satisfied by the harvest of he who has labored.
And we gladly enter into his labor.