“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord ..." (Luke 10:2)

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field." (Luke 10:2)

What does the parable of the harvest and the workers mean?

Jesus is speaking to his students as he sends them out to preach. He is sending out his followers to teach to others what he has taught them.

The "harvest" is the opportunity to change peoples hearts, from being self-centered to being worshipers of God. It is "plentiful" because at that time there were a lot of people who were searching for the truth and not finding it among the institutional temple teachers of that era.

The "workers" refers to those of Jesus' followers who are being sent out to preach. Compared to the number of people - hundreds of thousands of people in the nearby towns and villages - there were only a few followers of Jesus available to preach to these people.

Notice that Jesus is speaking of the "Lord of the harvest" in the third person. This means that Jesus was not referring to himself. He was asking his followers to "Ask the Lord." This means he wants each of his followers to rely upon God and teach on behalf of God. He wants each of them to channel God and represent God's interests as they teach to others.

Did he send twelve out or 72?

Jesus is giving instructions to 72 of his students and disciples to go out and preach. How do we know there were 72?
"After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town..." (Luke 10:1)
This number is also confirmed in Luke 10:17: The seventy-two returned...

This is an interesting point because as this event is described in Matthew, only the twelve seem to be sent:
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions... (Matt. 10:5)
We have to go with 72. Why? Besides the confirmation in Luke, the twelve disciples were certainly contained within the 72. Certainly, Jesus did send out the twelve, as this was the subject of those verses. But we can see from not only Luke 10:1 but many other verses that Jesus had many other disciples outside of the twelve.

Rather, what we see is some focus being put on twelve because these were more well-known disciples.

We also see that some have put an emphasis on the 12 because they want to put forth that Jesus appointed 12 people to be his successors. But this is not true. We can see this as the lives of some of the twelve are followed - such as Judas, who hung himself, and James and Peter, who became great teachers. But then there were other followers of Jesus who became great teachers outside of the 12. 

This included Mary who sailed to France and started a mission there. It also includes Joseph of Arimathea, who was a dedicated disciple who arranged the tomb for Jesus and talked Pilate into releasing Jesus to him. Then of course there is Barnabas, who went on to help establish a broad preaching mission in the decades after Jesus' departure. 

Are we to say that these dedicated followers of Jesus were not as dedicated or important to Jesus as the 12? Certainly not. 

In other words, Jesus did not select who became devoted teachers. The Supreme Being did that.

And this is confirmed in Luke 10:1 and 10:2. Jesus did not appoint people to represent him. He offered the truth to every one of his students, and anyone who received that truth from him and put that truth into practice and was empowered by God was capable of passing that truth on to others.

This is also confirmed when Jesus also said to them:
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
Jesus is putting emphasis on "whoever listens." This means learning. Knowledge is gained through learning from one's teacher, who is passing on the knowledge gained from their own teacher. And the fact that this passing of truth is empowered by God is confirmed with "Him who sent me."

Did Jesus rely upon appointed or elected teachers?

There were many officially appointed or elected teachers of the Jewish temple institution that Jesus could have enlisted to teach his message. But that's not what Jesus did. He enlisted those who had no appointment. He engaged anyone who would sincerely hear his teachings and follow them.

Some institutions like to put emphasis on some sort of appointed selection process in terms of their teachers (popes, priests, preachers). The selection process currently embraced by most sectarian institutions is one of politics - election by committee.

For example, the pope is elected by a group of cardinals. The cardinals were appointed by other cardinals. Priests and preachers are appointed to churches by committees of deacons. And so on. The process of electing or appointing a priest or pope by committees of people means the process is about politics: It has nothing to do with the Supreme Being. It relates to how others are impressed by the resume and physical presentation of the candidate.

Jesus' process was simple. He taught the truth to everyone, and those who became committed to those teachings were sent out to pass those teachings on. There was no limitation or selection process. Why not?

Isn't it God who ultimately chooses?

God's representatives are ultimately chosen by God. Because the real selection process takes place with the Supreme Being. God chooses who will represent Him. His selection process is based upon a relationship: The relationship of devotion between the person and God. If God sees a person is devoted to Him, He may empower that person to pass on the teachings of their empowered teacher to others.

And any institution that removes that authority by the Supreme Being and tries to replace it with an ecclesiastical political process of appointment by committee or succession is not accepting God's authority and His empowerment. Such an institution must therefore not be accepted as empowered to pass on the truth. What they may teach might appear to be the truth - but it has no empowerment. It is empty rhetoric.

In other words, they cannot teach love for the Supreme Being because they do not know the Supreme Being. They are conducting a business. It is not about love. Love for God can only be passed on by someone - an individual - who has a loving service relationship with the Supreme Being.

This is precisely what is occurring between Jesus and the 72 that he is sending out. Notice that Jesus is instructing his students to pray to the Supreme Being directly for their empowerment:

"Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field."

This "harvest" is the process of God's reaching out to people, by God's servants. Jesus is representing God and reaching out to people, to in effect "harvest" them - ask them to return to their loving service relationship with the Supreme Being. And Jesus' devoted students, by following Jesus' instructions, are also reaching out to people as they pass on Jesus' teachings.

The "workers" then are none other than those who are representing the Supreme Being. Those who are reaching out to others and passing on the teachings of love for God. Jesus is saying that there are too few of these sincere students who are ready to pass on his teachings to others.

And the "Lord of the harvest" is none other than the Supreme Being.

"His harvest field" ultimately represents God's reaching out and requesting we return to Him. This is the purpose of preaching. It is the purpose of scripture. The Supreme Being is reaching out to us through these means. He is asking each of us if we are ready to come home to Him.

God could appear personally with a booming voice and demand we return to Him if He wanted to. But He doesn't. The Supreme Being is very gentle. He is very gracious. He reaches out to us but never forces us. He wants the decision to be ours.

So by Jesus instructing his student to "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field," Jesus is requesting that each of them pray to the Supreme Being to empower them to represent the Supreme Being as they reach out to others.

Are they being physically sent out?

The term "to send out" is being portrayed to refer to being physically sent: to physically be sent out to travel. But the real meaning lies with empowerment - being "sent" by God in this context means being empowered by God.

Thus Jesus himself is admitting that he does not empower others to preach. God empowers those He wishes to represent Him.

We can see from the sheer number of people that Jesus sent out that Jesus was not "appointing" those who would teach on his behalf as one typically considers the word "appointing" to mean. Can you imagine such an appointment process - to appoint 72 people? No, this was not appointment as we would define it typically.

By the number of people Jesus sent out we can tell that he was not selecting a few people - he was authorizing anyone who had been sincerely hearing his message and putting those teachings into practice. That is quite different from the process of appointment we typically see among political or ecclesiastical institutions. In these, one person is singled out, or a small group is selected by committee.

The central method that Jesus is using is the teacher-mentorship method. The sincere student is trained by the empowered teacher - the representative of God. This means instructions, and then putting those instructions into practice. This means, in this case, doing those devotional practices that help one develop their relationship with the Supreme Being. 

As we see among Jesus' teachings in the gospels, this means hearing Jesus' teachings, praying to God, praising God - singing and repeating His Holy Names - and in general dedicating one's life to serving God.

So Jesus was seeing these symptoms among those 72 - that they had been Jesus' students and had been putting into practice what Jesus was teaching.

But Jesus is giving the empowerment process to God. That is why he is asking his students to "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send..." Jesus is saying that anyone who sincerely hears and puts into practice the teachings of their teacher may teach - but only God may empower that person to represent Him.

But this does not come without a relationship between the teacher and the student. It cannot be imaginary. There must be a relationship. It is not like the imaginary relationship some suggest we must have with Jesus: They say we don't need a teacher because all we need is Jesus. Yet they are teaching us this? They are teaching us that we don't need a teacher? If all we needed was Jesus then why are they trying to teach us?

Rather, Jesus himself illustrated that his sincere students could become teachers. So he sent out 72 of his followers to teach.

Through having a relationship with God's representative, one is introduced to God. Having a relationship means hearing from that person and putting their teachings into practice.

But in order to teach, one must be empowered by the Supreme Being (if the Supreme Being chooses) to pass on the teachings of their teacher. This is not an official appointment process. but it is a strict process in that the Supreme Being must be in charge of it. He dictates what will be said to whom and how it will be said. But that dictation takes place through the surrender of the person to God's will. That they intend to do what God wants them to do.

Such a relationship with God is based on love and trust.

A person must come to trust the Supreme Being. This means being introduced to Him and coming to know Him first. The Supreme Being is the most lovable Person. He is the most kind. The most attractive. The most caring. We can give our hearts to God because He truly cares for each of us. This is why Jesus' most important teaching was:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)