While His disciples left to buy food some distance away, Jesus’ passion for souls was ignited by a woman who showed up at noon to fill her waterpot in the ancient city of Sychar in Samaria (John 4).
When His disciples returned, they were shocked to find Jesus speaking with a woman, by Himself, at noon. It seemed so scandalous that the disciples jumped to the wrong conclusion. They turned the conversation to concern about His empty stomach, while He was more conscious of filling a famished soul with the bread of life.
Then the disciples changed the conversation from food to farming as they looked across the plains where grain had recently been planted. They called Jesus’ attention to the first blades popping out of the ground, and remarked that it would take another four months before the crop would be ready for harvest. But while they were speaking of the future, Jesus anticipated a real and present spiritual harvest. He asked: “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’?” (verse 35). As He spoke, He could see a procession of villagers from Sychar in the distance, eagerly making their way across the plain toward Him, led by the woman from the well. He exclaimed: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (verse 35).
Perhaps if those disciples had been from an organized church committee inquiring about the possibilities of a successful soul-winning venture, their resolution would have been: “Let’s wait and watch the crop for four more months; then it will be ready.” Some committees, like the disciples, are ready to recognize needy communities; but are just as likely to find good reasons to do nothing at the moment. However, the harvest for conversions isn’t the same as the time line of crops.
That’s why there’s a divine urgency to reap God’s harvest. For, as with grain that rots when it’s ripe and not reaped, Satan spoils those who are ready and ignored. Many obvious signs indicate that it’s harvesttime. These are reflected in everyday “breaking news,” when most people outside our church are apparently indifferent to organized religion and paying dearly the wages of sin. They have nowhere to turn when their relationships fall apart, when their children take guns and knives to school to resolve their conflicts, when they are laid off or fired from their jobs.
In recent outreach to various neighborhoods in South Bend, Indiana, we discovered these striking and unmistakable signs that people without Christ are unhappy with their lives. We saw signs in increased police patrols and reports of people shooting each other for nonessential material things; signs in groups of children and youth wandering aimlessly, searching for a purpose or a personal hero; signs in the confession of a man who admitted he’s an alcoholic who no longer finds pleasure in its numbing promise to fill the infinite abyss in his heart without God.
In neighborhood after neighborhood residents were ready and waiting for the authentic proclamation of the gospel. The field is white for harvest. It’s time to reap!
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.