The Urgency of the Harvest and Risk of Mission

This coming Sunday is the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post the disciples were commissioned. Today, they are receiving their “marching orders.” 2 He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. 3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.

The prophets of the OT used harvest as a metaphor for eschatological judgment and for the gathering of Israel in the last times (Joel 3:13; Mic 4:11–13). In every culture, harvest season is a time of great urgency. The common day laborer would understand the exhortation to plead with the landowner to bring in more laborers to help with the harvest. In the context of the parable of the sower and the seed earlier (8:4–8), it is now time to gather in the harvest from the soil that has produced a hundredfold. [Culpepper, 219]

Again, there is no room for illusion. The disciples will be lambs among wolves, defenseless, completely dependent on the Lord of the harvest for whatever is needed (Isa 11:6; 65:25). The metaphor warns the disciples of the opposition they will encounter. Unlike Matthew (10:16), Luke does not give any instruction as to how the disciples should prepare for or respond to the opposition they will encounter, unless the instructions that follow are understood as following from this warning. The simile points both to danger and to helplessness. God’s servants are always in some sense at the mercy of the world, and their own strength is inadequate. They must depend upon God. So Jesus tells them to take no equipment (cf. 9:3).

Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. The command neither to carry sandals (hypodēmata) nor to greet (aspasēsthe) certainly amplify the sense of urgency about mission.  Most scholars see the echo of both the Mosaic and the Elisha tradition, where the theme of urgency is evident. In Exod. 12:11 the Israelites were commanded to eat their first Passover with their sandals on their feet, and in 2 Kings 4:29 Elisha sent Gehazi on his way with this command: “If you meet anyone, ouk eulogēseis auton [‘give him no greeting’].” Greet no one along the way is not an exhortation to impoliteness: it is a reminder that their business is urgent and that they are not to delay it with wayside acquaintances. The traditions of the near eastern make road side encounters, however hospitable and gracious, are elaborate and time-consuming. These traditions highlight the point of Jesus’ commands, as the eschatological urgency of his ministry surpasses that of the first Passover, and the command not to offer greetings reflects the same concerns.

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