Like the Israelites, Jews and Christians who came before us, the members of the family of God have been a community that lives within a larger community of people for whom God, in practice hardly exists. We live among people who don’t understand from whom their inherent dignity and value come and subsequently seek to find their meaning and identity from myriad other current secular ideals, things, or philosophies. Unlike the disciple of Christ, they more often than not seem to have little direction and meaning in their lives beyond having a job, getting money, excelling at achieving social status and indulging in some level of enjoyment. For God’s family members, in the past as well as today, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage have great depth of meaning: “The harvest is great, and the laborers are few.”
At the time of Christ, there were an estimated 170 million people in the world and by the end of the first century there were approximately 80,000 followers of Christ. Today there are 8 billion people in the world. Of that 8B there are almost 2.5 billion Christians and of those, 1.3B are Catholic, 75% of North America is Christian, 73% of the United States is Christian and of those there are 75.4 M Catholics. The ancient believers clearly did not labor in vain.
However, looking at belief in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 3 of 4 people have not yet heard or believed, a large proportion of which is agnostic or are practical atheists – they live their lives as if God did not exist. And how many who once knew Christ have subsequently rejected the faith?
As well, among so many who do call themselves Christians, how many could be accurately described as being actively engaged in the mission, laborers in the field bringing in the harvest? Too often, by “laborer” Catholics think of priests, or religious brothers and sisters. One hears people expressing regret that today there are so few “vocations”. What will the Church do? How will it carry on? We should become like the protestant churches; we should have married and women priests. But in the early days and years of the Church, there were very few priests or religious. In the mind of Jesus – and in the mind of the early evangelists – everyone who was known as a follower of Christ was expected to be a laborer in the harvest field. Paul was a layman and made his living as a tentmaker.
All of us are called to be Christ's coworkers in the vineyard, missionaries of his mercy, peace, and love. Some of us are called to dedicate ourselves in sacramental and apostolic ways to this spiritual harvest, but for the most part when Jesus admonishes us to "ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest", he is referring above all to the vast majority of disciples who are not Priests and Religious missionaries.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once speaking with a young man who wanted to do something for Christ. He was saddened by the problems he saw in the world and expressed his frustration to Mother Teresa. He told her, "I'm only one person, and the world is in such a mess! What can I do?" She answered, "Pick up a broom."
Living our faith as missionaries is not just an expectation of God for us, it isn’t one more rule, sharing faith and the message to repent and believe is above all a corporal work of mercy, a labor that brings greater peace into the hearts of human beings and therefore the world, and it is an act of love for neighbor – our loving responses to God’s love for us. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let all the earth cry out with joy!
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.