Many are called22 Feb 2023
Have we the courage to answer God’s call to go into the harvest?
The only time I have ever noticed a lack of flour on the shopping shelf was during the Covid lockdown, which threatened to make life difficult for home-made bread enthusiasts.
For those blessed with a stable income in Australia, it’s easy to forget about where the flour came from for that muffin we just purchased with our overpriced cappuccino. However, in a globalised supply chain, we’ve seen what can happen when part of the process breaks down, as it has done in war-torn Ukraine.
Containers full of grain sat in shipping docks, unable to be sent to countries which rely on this important food source. In this scenario, the primary producers were unable to send their harvest to the secondary producers who supply flour to consumers, wreaking havoc on the international economy. However, the political stand-off had the largest impact on those with the least.
Food is seasonal, it must be harvested at a particular time, and it has a use-by date. We saw this in our own backyard in 2021 with a shortage of fruit pickers in Australia, again during the Covid lockdowns. The supply of temporary international workers (many live far away from family for long periods, with low pay and poor accommodation) was cut by 26,000, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in crops going to waste. This lack of labour resulted in the industry regulators reviewing employment wages and conditions and forced the government to reconsider its immigration processes.
A first century Palestinian audience would have understood these basic farming principles and also the importance of ‘paying the labourer’ (Matt 20:1-16). Matthew uses the word ‘harvest’ three times in verses 37-38 of Chapter 9 to imply a sense of urgency for the harvesting. When the crop is ready, it must be harvested or it will go to waste. In a similar way, he was saying that the time is just right, because the kingdom of heaven is at hand, today.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel he writes, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’ (Matt 9:37).
It’s important to consider what prevents labourers from going into the harvest today and the effect of this on those who hunger to know God. Later in the Gospel, Matthew continues this explanation, ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ (22:14). Heeding the call is our responsibility and we are reminded in Hebrews 3:15, if today ‘you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts’. Many will hear but fail to listen and even fewer choose to respond.
FAITH IN FAMILIES
In most instances, when it comes to planting and nurturing faith, families are the primary producers, the initial formators and witnesses of faith to their children. “Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents” (CCC 2226). It takes a much larger village community to help with the reaping, harvesting and transformation of God’s love into something new: a source of life, given and broken, shared with others. We believe that each person is created and called by God for a purpose, a vocation. When we respond to this call in our lives, we take part in the process of bringing forth life, of harvesting, transformation and the eventual return to the earth.
Pope Francis suggests that the harvest will only be plentiful when we have cultivated kindness as part of the process. He said, ‘Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue. Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.’ (Fratelli Tutti, 222-224)
We need to aerate the soil of our hearts, remove the weeds and make room for future growth. We also acknowledge those forces that are beyond our control, those environmental factors which can severely affect the harvest. These external threats come in different forms; some may experience a drought in prayer life, for others it’s the sudden and devastating impact of flood or fire (the loss of a loved one), and for many of us, we fight those insidious pests and diseases which quietly threaten the harvest (the little distractions of life).
In a missionary sense, we see sustained effort and resources being poured into the re-evangelisation of countries in which the Gospel has already been sown. At present, these efforts are not equally matched with attention or growth in the proclamation of the Good News to those nations which are largely yet to encounter the Christian message.
St Marcellin Champagnat and other missionaries repeatedly encouraged the consideration of every diocese of the world in their plans. These endeavours have not been without sacrifice, loss, rejection and suffering. For most of us, this foreign missionary soil might be much closer than we imagine. Surely our work colleagues, neighbours, friends and family require cultivating, sowing and reaping. Are we prepared to head out into the harvest?
AT THE CROSSROADS
In her book The Time is Now, Joan Chittister speaks of being at a crossroad with three choices ahead of us.
The first is the road that quits and heads in another direction, the second invites us to crawl into a cave and wait for the storm to pass and the third is the road of the prophets, a call to uncommon courage. As described in the title of Robert Frost’s poem, this third option is the road less travelled. It takes courage to respond to the call to go into the harvest, but it will make all the difference.
This article first appeared in the autumn 2023 edition of Madonna magazine.