In Matthew 9:37 Jesus said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." Since Jesus is talking about harvesting souls for the Kingdom of Heaven, I would add, "and skilled workers are even fewer." I have the handle of an old scythe in my garage. Scythes are hand tools for harvesting wheat. They have a long, curved handle, and a long, narrow blade fastened at a right angle to the end of the handle. I've got an idea about how it works, but it would take on-the-job training for me to use it properly. What about harvesting souls? How do we become a skilled worker at that critical task? Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!
In many respects this week’s study is a continuation of the previous lesson. Christ established spiritual leaders for the distinct purpose of proclaiming the kingdom of God. The principles and methodology that Jesus employed must remain the spiritual foundation for the Christian’s preparation today.
The Harvest and the Harvesters
Commentary for the March 22, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29, NIV
In 1983, Barbara Streisand starred in the motion picture production of “Yentyl.” It was the story of the daughter of a European Rabbi, who yearned for the theological training that was only open to boys. Her father encouraged her and trained her at home as he was able, but once he died, she had nowhere to turn to continue her training. Not to be deterred in her desire to grow theologically, she decided to cut her hair, dress as a boy, and attempt to enroll in a yeshiva.
Once enrolled in the school, she is paired with another student as is commonly part of the educational program in such schools. Eventually, her secret is discovered and returning to her female identity, she sails for America where there are yeshivas that will accept female students. Today there are many such inclusive schools as over time, more women have been granted access. The 1970s and 1980s saw the first of many rabbes (female rabbis) to be ordained by several of the major sects of Judaism.[i]
Lest we are tempted to brush this off as a “Jewish” problem, my own experience has shown it is not. While I was studying theology and biblical languages at Walla Walla University in the 1970s, a handful of young women were also studying theology there. Over several conversations with these fellow students, I heard of how repeatedly they had been told that pursuing a course of theological study would not be likely to result in their finding a pastoral position within the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Instead, in spite of the fact that their education was just as expensive as any pastor’s, they were encouraged to enter the poorly paid profession of Bible Worker where a woman could find herself a place as a church employee.
Sadly, in addition to this counsel from well-meaning faculty advisors and pastoral mentors, these women also suffered a great deal of discriminatory pressure to quit when they were given assignments to preach in area churches. Some churches would not even allow them to preach, special music, yes, but preaching, no. One church’s head elder even took it upon himself to call the university theology department and give a movement by movement analysis of every glance, step or gesture of one female theology student along with his interpretation of how evil it all was and that a woman should never have been allowed in the pulpit in the first place. Needless to say, the young woman in question was deeply traumatized and quit the theology program when all of this was related to her by her advisor.
To this day, the denomination struggles to find an equal place for women within its ranks. Strangely those who control such things in the church often make comparisons between the pastors of today and the priests of the Old Testament as justification for discriminating against women workers. However, it would seem that the Jews have greater right to claim a link between their spiritual leaders and that ancient priesthood than the Gentiles do, and still, they seem able to grant women equal access with males to the rabbinate. Maybe if the Christian church had broken from Judaism today instead of two thousand years ago, we would not even question the idea of female clergy.
While many local Adventist churches now ordain women as lay local elders and some conferences are “licensing” women pastors, very few are actually ordaining women into the ranks of the clergy. In fact, in the eyes of the world church leaders, those unions that are allowing it to take place are deemed to be in rebellion to the church. Perhaps it is ironic that a church that is often seen to be anti-Catholic can be so in step with Roman Catholicism in how they treat women. Maybe Adventists should question their willingness to “make an image to the beast” in this area of practice if they are to avoid being branded with self-serving hypocrisy.
As I have written in other places in the past, the Old Testament priesthood died in the first century, C.E, with Christ’s death on the cross. It took some time for that to be realized, as the early church continued to worship at the temple and participate in the temple sacrifices.[ii] Eventually, with the destruction of the temple by Titus, son of the Emperor Vespasian, in 70 C.E., both Christians and Jews had to come to an understanding of how to move forward without that focal edifice. For the Jews, the system of rabbis and synagogues begun during the reign of the Maccabeans, Mattathias and his five sons, became the natural fallback position from the priesthood and the sacrifices of the temple. Rabbis were not descended from the priestly caste and the sacrifices were reinterpreted as being replaced by study of the Talmud and personal devotions.[iii]
Christians seem to have taken a different approach, seeing their leaders as descended in an unbroken chain from the Aaronic priesthood through Christ. To use the Roman Catholic Church as an example, the logic would perhaps work like this. The popes who might be considered the antitype of the Aaronic high priest commonly trace their office back to a supposed ordination of the first pope by Peter who received ordination by the passing of the “keys of the kingdom” from Jesus.[iv]
However, Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron. He descended from Judah, not Levi. His priesthood was uniquely identified with the Melchizedekian order, not the Aaronic.[v] Lest some think this might be an endorsement of a new exclusive, Melchizedekian priestly caste, we might consider how the Apostles viewed the new Christian priesthood. Perhaps Peter said it best when he referred to all Christians as “royal priests.”[vi]
Peter’s tendency at one point, along with most Jews of his day, was to see his faith as exclusive rather than inclusive. However, he was awakened to an inclusive perspective through a vision received on a housetop in Joppa.[vii] Peter was also the Apostle who cited the inclusive prophecy of Joel on Pentecost that I have quoted at the top of this commentary. Perhaps this was why God saw in him the ideal candidate to bring the gospel to the Gentile, Cornelius and his family. Peter began to understand through that experience that it was not the work of the church or the Apostles to restrict the moving of the Holy Spirit.
We might ask ourselves, why it is so difficult to understand Peter’s lesson, today. Why do we so often seek to perpetuate the exclusivism that hindered God’s people in the past? We restrict over half of the denomination from full-fledged ministry and then pat ourselves on the back at how tremendous our single-digit growth rate is. There is no small irony in that. Shouldn’t we instead wonder how our growth rate might look if we unleashed those women we now keep bound in the fetters of gender discrimination?
When we survey the congregations of the denomination, so many skilled and able women fill our pews and are led by the nose by a handful of men who tell them that they are somehow deficient when it comes to ministry because of their gender. As if that were not enough, those same women are expected to support that message with their tithes and offerings. It brings to mind the tyrants who execute their opponents and then send their families a bill for the bullets.
As Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, asserted in their book, “Half the Sky,” women hold up half or more of everything around us, yet their part in creating and maintaining society as we know it is treated as though it is insignificant and irrelevant compared to the role of men. Men must control the power, men must control the money, and yes, men must control the church as well. It does beg the question, though, if there were no money or power associated with clerical office, would so many men still be interested in holding it and excluding women?
When we consider Jesus words about needing more laborers for the harvest[viii] and also consider Ruth’s faithful efforts gleaning from the fields of Boaz,[ix] maybe we would be wise to follow the advice of Boaz to “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”[x] The harvest needs to be gathered quickly before the rains begin to fall. Can we afford at harvest time, when every hand is needed, to be driving the Ruth’s from the field?
[i] "Rabbi," Wikipedia Article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbi#Women
[ii] Acts 21:26
[iii] “Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, Third Edition,” Edited by Hershel Shanks, Biblical Archeology Society, 2011, pg. 323.
[iv] Matthew 16:17-19
[v] Hebrews 5:7-10
[vi] 1 Peter 2:9
[vii] Acts 10
[viii] Matthew 9:36-38
[ix] Ruth 2:7
[x] Ruth 2:15-16
"The Harvest and the Harvesters"
March 22, 2014
Texts: John 1:40-46, 4:28-30; Luke 24:4-53; Acts 1:6-8; Matthew 9:36-38; Luke 15
Lost. Flight 370 that took off from Malaysia for China with 239 passengers on board is lost. The scenario that began on March 8 is being called the most puzzling aviation mystery in history.
About 40 minutes after takeoff, as the plane was leaving Malaysian airspace and entering Vietnamese airspace, someone in the cockpit communicated with air-traffic controllers. "All right, good night" were his final words. Controllers are familiar with these words when pilots leave one airspace and enter another. So all seemed well.
But then, just one minute later, the transponder that sends signals to radar systems regarding the plane's flight number, altitude, airspeed, and course, was apparently switched off. Air-traffic controllers then lost all contact with the plane. It is now known that even before the verbal signoff, the ACARS-Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System-ended communication. Only someone who knew the aircraft well could have handled this procedure. Approximately 45 minutes later, military radar tracked the plane that was now hundreds of miles off course.1
How can a Boeing 777 get lost? Terrorism, hijacking, and the possibility of pilot suicide are all being considered.
According to Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak, 26 countries are now involved in the search for Flight 370. But it's like searching for "a needle in a haystack." Data gathered from satellites suggest that the plane, which had enough fuel to fly for eight hours, did in fact fly for over seven hours after takeoff. So the search must cover an enormous area that encompasses 11 countries and two corridors, stretching thousands of miles. Ships, planes, and satellites are meticulously combing the vast area.2
After studying this week's Sabbath school lesson, we can't help but think about the "lost" people of this generation. Imagine the impact if we as a church came together with the same intensity as the searchers for Flight 370 to search for the spiritually lost. The lost that have never known Jesus, as well as the lost that have left the church. What if we made it our passion, our mission, to discover where they are, and then make a plan to rescue them?
Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 9:37 and 38: "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (NIV). There are a variety of ways to reach out to those who are lost: public evangelistic meetings, community outreach programs, vacation Bible schools, small group home Bible studies, or simply befriending them, are a few ways. It depends on the individual. But whatever method we use, we must be sincere.
"The harvest is plentiful." That's not the problem. The problem is that "the workers are few." Jesus wants us to be "finders." Not sitters, and not sleepers, but a people who will actively search and rescue.
Additional resource: youtu.be
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