“Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.
Here is what happened after Jesus’ disciples returned from the village with provisions: The Samaritan Woman went into the village and told everyone she knew that she believed that the Messiah was over at Jacob’s well and a large number of the villagers believed her and went out to the well to see for themselves and according to the Apostle John the upshot was a large conversion of villagers to Jesus the Messiah. I can see it in my mind’s eye — men and women pouring out of the village and rambling up the hill through the fields to the well where Jesus was with his disciple. While this was happening, the disciples were trying to figure out who Jesus was and what he was doing talking to a woman by himself, in public, which in their time and place was verging on the indecent. Furthermore this woman was a Samaritan. Some time passed as his disciples awkwardly tried to grasp what was going on and then Jesus directed their attention to the fields of wheat spreading out before them, fluttering and swaying right down to the village.
“Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.”
“Lift up your eyes and see them coming to me.” In a manner of speaking, he said, “These men and women are like ripened fruit falling right into your hands.” Here is an image, a trope that vividly presents the way, the culture of Christ’s Kingdom and yet it is easily forgotten, especially today, because the triumph of utilitarianism has led to the notion that what is really meaningful is quantifiable. If it is true and if it is meaningful then you can calculate it, predict it, and control it. When that naive empirical assumption gets into the Church then the Church gets to work on methods of “church growth” that are predictable, quantifiable, and controllable, but above all methods that are marketable. The Church is reduced to a voluntary community of like-minded men and women.
Jesus says that the fruit of the Kingdom, fruit that he has just described to the Samaritan woman as joy, peace, happiness, and spiritual worship — that fruit begins with the prevenient grace of God, that is the grace of God that precedes us. Where Jesus finds a person with a receptive heart he says the seed of eternal life has already been planted and growing. But clearly the planting, the watering, and the reaping requires workers, other people are made instrument of that grace. Therefore it is the case that most of the time ordinarily speaking the one who reaps has entered at the end of a very long season of labor and growth. That was the case with his disciples that day.
Remember our Lord’s parable in the Gospel of Matthew in which the workers who had labored only one hour were paid the same as those who had labored the whole day. And do not forget that behind those who labored the whole day were those who had labored the whole season, planting, weeding, and watering for months. Jesus’s disciples are like those who had labored only one hour in Matthew’s parable and for them the ripened fruit was falling right into their hands. The outcome that Jesus wants and then presents poetically to his disciples is one in which his disciples grow into greater self-reflection and understand that the sowers, and those who water and weed, as well as those who reap are co-workers with God. St. Paul certainly understood this:
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” I Corinthians 3:5-9
Paul grasped the mystical meaning that Jesus intended that is reaping means “gathering fruit unto eternal life.” One way to understand and appropriate Jesus’ meaning is that it takes a life time to craft a life story and that crafting begins in a person and that beginning launches a process that takes time and normally the beginning is not set in motion by the one who reaps:
One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour:
other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.” John 4:35-38
It is certainly fair to ask “Whose labor were the disciples of Jesus entering into that day in Samaria?” The reason that is a good question is because the Samaritans were not Jews and in fact Jews had the very same attitude toward Samaritans that they had toward other Gentiles. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan when the priest and the Levite, both essential to Jewish Temple worship, walk across the street to avoid contact with the man who was beaten and robbed, he was describing exactly what they would do if they saw a Samaritan walking down the street. Moreover, when serious Jews traveled from Judaea where Jerusalem and Bethlehem were to Galilee where Nazareth and Cana were they did not take the shortest rout because that would take them through Samaria and that would have been religiously defiling. But be clear about this, the resentment and hatred was mutual and the Samaritans considered the Jews to be utterly illegitimate. What is my point? My point is that if Jesus had been in Israel when he said to his disciples that the fruit of men and women they were reaping was entirely the result of entering into the previous labor of other men the answer to the question “Whose labor were Jesus’ disciples entering into?” would have been obvious. They had entered into the labor of Moses and the Prophets as well as the all other faithful priests and leaders in Israel, of the house of David. But he was in Samaria and the Samaritans were not Jews of the House of David although they considered themselves to be the true Israel. Furthermore the Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch the first five books of the Old Testament. My question is when Jesus said to his disciples “I sent you to reap where you bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours”who is he talking about? Well, first of all there were no Jewish missions in Samaria attempting to convert them to Judaism, so he was not talking about Jewish missions. Secondly there is no mention anywhere of John the Baptist taking his mission into Samaria and indeed with his emphasis upon Israel as the Bride, Jesus as the Bridegroom, and John himself as the Friend of the Bridegroom for him to travel into Samaria would be a contradiction to his whole mission, so it was not John the Baptist. The only candidates we have left to fill the role of those who labored to sow God’s Word, the one’s Jesus said were his disciples’ fellow laborers are the priests and leaders and people who were Samaritan and not Jewish. And I believe that is exactly what he is saying and we shall look into this more as we move along.
One last point, this poetic language that Jesus is using opens up the vast meaning of the Gospel if we open up our hearts. We know that Jesus is concerned that his disciples grasp the reality that God’s grace and God’s people had preceded them and they have preceded us as well. They have been busy sowing long before we showed up to reap the benefits of their labor. We know Jesus’ parable about the sower going forth to sow the Word of God and we know that when the seed fell upon good ground, an open heart, it brought forth more fruit than anybody including his disciples could have ever imagined. But we also know — most importantly of all — that for the seed that is sown to burst into life it must first die and be buried. And we know that because Jesus said so in the very week he would give his life up for the life of the whole world and the Apostle John recorded it for us in the 12th chapter of his Gospel:
“And there were certain Greeks (note these are Gentile converts) among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” John 12:20-25
In less than 48 hours from that moment Jesus was nailed to the Cross. Jesus is the Seed of Abraham and Jesus’ glory is his death and his garden tomb is the ground from which he rose and his rising has brought forth the fruit of everlasting life just as we will sing on Easter Sunday morning: