Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 22 Laborers In the Field
Good morning. We are still in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, but we have begun to progress beyond the sermon on the mount. Bonhoeffer is now writing about how Jesus expected his disciples to fullfill their comisssion as disciples and last week we compared the disciples attitude towards the masses with Jesus’ attitude. Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion. Jesus saw not just a mass of people but a field that was ready to be harvested. Jesus final comment in Matthew chapter nine as we read last week was that the disciples should “pray the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
We don’t know, I suppose, if the disciples prayed that prayer. I like to suppose so. I would urge you to be cautious about praying such a prayer, however, because it appears that they got an answer to their prayer almost immediately. God sent them!
1 And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, 10 nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food. 11 Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. 12 And when you go into a household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
I want to look at a couple of notable things about this account. First lets look at the nature of the call to the disciples. Isn’t this different than how we would do things? Jesus doesn’t challenge them to examine whether or not they want to be laborers. He tells them to ask that laborers be sent. Jesus doesn’t ask for volunteers to preach the good news, he commissions them with a task. Jesus doesn’t divide them up according to their abilities and give them differing tasks according to their gifts. Instead he empowers them. The message even to us is that if God’s work is to be done He must call and He will empower.
At the same time, look at His instructions to the disciples. Jesus gives the disciples a list of what to say, what to do, and what not to take. Bonhoeffer calls this state “royal poverty”; by making no provision for themselves the disciples are forced to lean on God. By taking nothing along with them they ensure that they bring no gift to the masses except a heavenly one. There is no reason whatsoever for the people to pay any attention to them except that they preach the Kingdom of Heaven.
Not only do the disciples not bring anything with them besides word of the new life, but they will not try to force this word on any who will not hear. We are accustomed to thinking of evangelism as involving pleading, persuasion, using attractions to lure the masses, and perhaps even bringing psychological pressure to bear on people so that they will “make a decision”. Contrast this to the attitude of Jesus in his instructions. He tells them to extend the good news of the establishment of the Kingdom, but if people are unwilling to hear the disciples should depart and shake the dust of the City of their feet! Jesus’ attitude seems epitomized by the phrase “Freely you have received, freely give.”
Now we have been placing ourselves into the shoes of the disciples as we contemplate what exactly it means to be a disciple. I do not wish to spend time now considering what the reactions of the disciples must have been to these instructions of Jesus. Reluctance, excitement, fear and Joy, I am sure they experienced all of that. I am not sure that this call, however, is meant to be to us as well as them: after all they were given power to heal and cast out demons and they were given instructions to go only to Israel. No, this calling was to them alone. There is another call a little later in Matthew, however, that I am confident we may apply to ourselves as well as those who first heard it. Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We may feel from time to time the burden of fulfilling this call, and that is a good thing. We should desire to see the masses as Jesus did, as fields ready for harvest. It is good and right that we should hunger to make disciples. But what are our methods when we go? Are we willing to offer nothing but the good news of the Kingdom? Do we consider our success or failure to be dependent on our ability to entertain, to persuade, and to motivate? Do we see our own motivation as the key to evangelism, or do we desire a call from God? May we all pray that the Lord of the Harvest sends laborers, and may we all be ready to Labor as He pleases.