“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”
When I was in college, I interned for a summer at a property management company. My job was to convert all of their paper documents to digital files. They had two large filing cabinets, in no apparent order, and it was up to me to go through everything, come up with a system of organization, and scan them into the computer. Thrilling, right? As I sat there for hours and hours at a time, I found myself thinking, “If only I had an extra hand to split up this labor, things would be so much easier.”
Having never worked a harvest on a farm, this was the closest I could get to understanding Jesus’ words: with more help, I could get more done in a shorter amount of time, which meant that I could go home. And maybe, if Jesus had been preaching to office interns rather than an agricultural society, he would have used this analogy. But if he had, I think something very critical would have been lost: a sense of urgency.
In my office job, those papers could have sat there for another 5 years and it wouldn’t matter at all. On a farm, there is a small window that crops can be picked; if there are not enough laborers to get it done by the end of the season, you can’t just go out later and put in some more work. Everything is going to rot and be completely lost. The mission that Jesus is sending his disciples on must be done right now. Do not stop to talk along the way, he says. Don’t get distracted, but stay single minded in your focus. Lives are at stake. We must hurry, otherwise we will lose them.
For us living today, those who do not live on farms and do not understand the stress of harvesting crops at the right time, the image may be a bit lost on us, but the importance, and urgency, of his mission is not. Living in the time that we do, worshiping on a college campus, we find ourselves in the midst of an immense harvest that is quickly going to waste: young people are leaving the Church in droves.
I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics, but they’re worth repeating: in 1990, the number of people in the United States who said that they were of no religion stood at around 8%. Today, that number is above 23%. Tripling in size in just 30 years, it is now larger than the total number of Catholics. And it’s rising. Among millennials that number is around 35%, and for Gen Z, those who are in high school and college today, estimates are even higher. We have, all around us, an immense harvest going to waste… and we must do something about it.
In Jesus’ time, we would have been sent out two by two, walking from town to town telling people about the Kingdom of God. This was the case even 1200 years later, as St. Francis and his brothers, filled with the same sense of urgency, went out and did likewise. Today? Not so much. For the most part, we have abandoned that practice, and maybe rightly so—our world has changed so much, and I’m not sure if knocking on doors is the best way to evangelize. But it worries me, nonetheless, that we might have lost our sense of urgency. Have we stopped that one particular practice because we have replaced it with another, more effective one, or have we abandoned the mission of evangelization completely?
Now, as much as ever, our Church needs evangelical zeal. It needs laborers. It needs witnesses to the Kingdom. How horrible it would be if Jesus came back, looking at the immense harvest all around us, and was disappointed at how little we had collected. Is this it? Is this all that you could save? Why did you not hire more hands? Why did you let so much go to waste? If we want to call ourselves his disciples, we must take up his mission.
Luckily for us, we don’t need to go very far. Right here in Athens, there are 38,000 students. I’m sure that there are few harvests in this country bigger, few places with as much opportunity as this. And I’m happy to say that I see many laborers already in the field. I arrive here on campus excited about the great things this center has done for decades. I look out and see hundreds of people with faith, inspiration, and ideas already working in the field, already announcing the kingdom.
But I also look out on this campus, this enormous campus of possibilities, and see a harvest going to waste. Think about how much more we could be doing. Oh my gosh, the possibilities are endless! If only we had more laborers. If only we had more people so overwhelmed with the urgency of the mission, so taken by Jesus’ commission, that they were willing to drop everything, just as Jesus’ disciples did, and devote their lives to announcing the kingdom.
What our world would look like… what this campus could look like…
Maybe you already have an idea of what this place needs; maybe you are passionate about something already but you don’t know how to make it happen. Let’s talk. Let’s see how the Catholic Center, how I personally, can help you be a missionary. And let’s get you going.
But maybe not. Maybe you want to do something, you want to take up Jesus’ mission, but you just don’t know where to start. Sometimes, it’s as simple as following Jesus’ own words. To his disciples, he gives three commands:
“Eat what is placed before you.” In other words, eat the food the people eat. Sit down with them, and get involved with their lives. What could be better than sharing a meal with someone, of experiencing what they experience. How easy it would be to attend a regular meal here at the center and talk with people you don’t know! Maybe volunteer to serve, to clean up. Eat what is placed before you, getting to know the person who is before you.
“Heal the sick.” In other words, find out what ails and burdens our community here, what people are hurting with, and work to make their lives easier. That could be as simple as a financial donation, and as serious as walking with people as they face hardship and tragedy. Heal the sick, in all the ways that they are sick.
And finally, “Announce the kingdom.” In other words, once you have gotten to know someone, once you have walked with them in their distress, let them know why we do what we do; let them know who gives us the love in the first place and who sends us out. At the Catholic Center, I want to be a people that lives with so much joy and love that people notice us. They look at us and say, “I want that too. I want to go where they’re going.”
Announce the kingdom with your lives, and see how it comes to life.
Jesus tells us that the harvest is abundant, and we certainly know that. But I think the laborers are abundant as well. Each and every one of you has the potential to do something extraordinary for the kingdom, and I can’t wait to see what that is.