“So that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together.” Jesus of Nazareth, The Gospel of John
It has been my experience that the emphasis of this verse is on the “reaping”—the gleaning of the fruit, corresponding to the practice in ministry of looking for opportunities to “bring people to Christ”.* In my previous post, I highlighted that “reaping” wasn’t the only activity mentioned by Jesus in this moment. In fact, he seemed to put reaping in its place alongside the need for sowing or other activities for proper farming – or spiritual growth.
The analogy that Jesus is drawing here relates to what is needed in the whole process of the spiritual journey to Jesus the Christ. In the last post I made my observation, in this one I want to ask several questions.
The What? The How?
If it is true that Jesus is praising the WHOLE process and not just one part of the process, then the answer to these questions will pose potentially challenging ideas on how “ministry” as a whole is practiced. I will address the “what” and “how” question in this blog and the “when” and “why” question in my next post.
It seems that Jesus is making his followers aware that they are reaping other people’s work; that he and others prepared people (in this case, the “woman at the well” and her fellow townsfolk) to hear the Gospel, and the disciples were the ones getting the “positive response”. What does this mean for us here and now?
At the very least it makes the activity of “Kingdom building” and “Gospel propagation” much broader. Absolutely there is “reaping”— to see people understand who Jesus was, what he did, and realizing what it means for their lives. But, there is also the activity of “not reaping”— in this case, sowing. If “reaping” means getting the fruit and bringing it into the storehouse, then “sowing” must mean prepping the field to yield the fruit. What was the activity of the “sower”? Everything but the “reaping”; which means soil analysis and preparation, arrangements for irrigation and fertilizing, active protection of the young plants from predators, possible pruning of plants to make them healthier, the building and gathering of tools for the coming harvest, etc. Given the various activities for sowing and the fact that sowing is a majority of the entire process of growing and collecting a harvest, one could argue that sowing is MORE important than reaping – I say it this way only to challenge prevailing opinion.
One last thing implied in this verse is that sowing might also involve not getting to see the “reaping”—just as in this passage the “reapers” didn’t see what the “sowers” did. BUT, both will rejoice together.
So, HOW do we evaluate these activities? How do we apply the relationship between the sower and reaper to our mindset and then actions as followers of Christ?
In this particular instance Jesus doesn’t seem to elevate one action over another. This is especially poignant with his words about both “rejoicing together”. At the very least this means as believers both activities will occur in our lives and we need to be ready to do either. Certainly, one is more fun than the other. Reaping or harvesting seems much more immediately satisfying—actually seeing results in reaping. Whereas sowing is more “uncertain”—more mysterious—because immediate fruit is hardly ever apparent. But this isn’t the point of what Jesus says. What’s important is that both activities happen and that they happen faithfully.
How well versed are you in either activity? Are you prepared to both sow and harvest?
I see harvesting as the ability to clearly communicate the complete message of Christ to someone and inviting them to consider its Truth. This could be something as simple as knowing how to use one of the myriad of methods of sharing the Gospel—The Roman Road, Evangelism Explosion, the Knowing God Personally booklet, etc. Do you know how to use one of these tools?
Sowing isn’t as clearly discernible in its method. I define sowing activity as communicating the values of the Gospel in the context of life. What are the Good, True and Beautiful characteristics of the Gospel in which all human beings can resonate? Using the structure of the Knowing God personally booklet, let me share a few of those values. Point one of the booklet states “God loves you and created you to know Him personally.” The value of the Gospel in this point is the value with which God holds all human beings. If He loves them then there is something valuable there to love – this is related to the Judeo-Christian concept of everyone being created in the image of God. In point two we see a possible reason for the darkness of this world. “Man is sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love.” If humanity is “sinful” or broken then we can see why there can be such horrors in this world like murder, or theft, or illness. The brokenness described in the Gospel is not just human, it also affects the world/all of creation. The activity of sowing is the attempt to make the case for these ideas being true about our reality. There is so much more to this, but space prevents me from a fuller engagement of these labors.
Where are you in this process? How do you sow Gospel values into your life and the life of those who live and breath around you? Are you prepared for a possible “harvest” moment? Do you know how to “share the Gospel”? Are you ready to rejoice with both the sowers and reapers as Jesus states?
Next blog we will tackle the “When” and “Why” questions of this passage.
* I know that all who read this may not understand this idea or may even think it is offensive to persuade someone—whether intentionally or not—to another view of the world. However, within my religious tradition, it is believed that Jesus’ last words encouraged, even commanded, this idea of “go, make disciples, teach, ‘baptize’ or identify” which many, including me, wish to take seriously. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to interact about this more, especially if it makes you angry, I am at your service.