“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” I had a flash back memory when I began Lectio with this Gospel story. The summer that I entered our community, the shoreline in Lake Jovita was slowing receding and leaving a stretch of sandy beach in its wake. St. Augustine grass was quick to see a rich opportunity to spread its runners. In contrast, S. Rosaria, our directress, was determined that the grass was not going to win conquerors’ rights. Believe me, the harvest was ABUNDANT! Guess who the few laborers would be! It was summertime and as novices our schedules included, yes, a refreshing hour at the lake to look forward to. We who were being introduced to the convent practice of silence could laugh aloud, splash each other with glee, and even swim far from the dock … of course, in pairs. But you’ll remember this reverie started because Jesus is talking about laborers and S. Rosaria had in her charge a handful of young, able-bodied, noisy laborers. You guessed it! We were instructed to spend 15 minutes of our precious recreation hour pulling up the “mile-long” runners of root-bound St. Augustine grass. It certainly has earned its nickname “buffalo grass.”
Jesus had a knack, didn’t He, for immersing His hearers right into their surroundings? He uses examples that are staring them right in the face and in many cases that are familiar to us. Reading this Gospel we can imagine row upon row of Florida strawberries, fields as far as the eye can see of native wildflowers. See, the farmers and immigrant fieldhands are up before the sun to do back-bending labor until sundown. Greenhouses across the landscape give evidence to the growing appeal and popularity of aquaponic and hydroponic farming. The citrus industry has been driven south of us and replaced with peach orchards and Christmas tree farms as well as development. We pray for the same intentions of our decades-ago ancestors: send us rain at the right season for a rich harvest, keep plant-eating critters away from our share of the food crops, give us health and strong backs to cultivate our gardens and laden our tables with Your bounty. And, those children trailing the adults and the big kids; bending low to the ground to drop in seeds one-by-one? Bless them, O God, with the delightful experience of fostering fledging plants to full bloom, and the sense of pride in adding to the array on the dinner table. And comfort them, we pray, when tears fall on their plates of fried pet chicken.
Then I recalled hearing, probably in 5th grade, the story of the Alabama farmer George Washington Carver, known as the “Father of the Peanut Industry.” He developed more than 300 uses for peanuts from chili sauce to shampoo; shaving cream to glue and helped save agriculture in the South. But with all the effort to cultivate an alternative valuable crop, the farmers lost sight of what this was doing to the soil’s contents. Now they had to deal with the same problem, soil depletion, that had caused them to switch from cotton to peanuts. Observing the agricultural practice of rotation of crops can teach us the production benefit of increased yields, improving the organic matter in the soil, thus disrupting the lifecycle of field pests and reducing the use of chemical pesticides.
So, how in creation is this applicable to the Gospel lesson? Jesus says, “Go into the territory of the lost sheep….” Cure drooping arms and dragging legs, raise from the dead, cleanse the diseased, drive out demons (crop pests). And make an announcement: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Do you think Jesus might have read farmers’ thoughts and observed their actions at the beginning of each growing season as they were gathering with all the farmhands, standing arms akimbo, eyeing the message that the sheep were sending with the evidence of their grazing patterns? See how they self-select richer pasture land as the available harvest is depleted. They follow a rotation of availability of crops moving from once fertile field on to one with the promise of richer pasture.
Again, how is this applicable today? I think there is a timely vocation lesson tucked into the last sentence. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Our life is our message. A spirit of hospitality costs nothing but goodwill. It starts in the home, the community, between each other and spreads like water seeping into cracks, binding us to one another. Contemplate what Jesus said: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Listen to what is being sought in the dreams of others. Where can you fill the gaps? That’s how we “Cure the sick, pray for the dead and comfort mourners; drive out ill-will; raise drooping spirits and spread Jesus’ announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ ”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
Please pray for calm weather and for peaceful recovery for the many people striving to recover from violent weather.
First Reading: Exodus 19:2-6a Second Reading: Romans 5:6-11
Gospel: Matthew 9:36-10:8