“Yeshua says, ‘The harvest is abundant. The reapers are few. Implore the Master of the Harvest to send out workers.’ ” The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 73, translated by Lynn C. Bauman
Our spiritual growth group has been studying the Gospel of Thomas, which is a collection of the sayings of Jesus that may predate the canonical gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. It might — possibly – have been one of the sources used by the writers of the three synoptic canonical gospels. (Scholarship in this area is recent and not widely known or accepted.) The most obvious difference between this gospel and the canonical gospels is that Thomas (or whoever wrote it) simply records the sayings of Jesus, without putting them in a narrative context. And this changes – dramatically – how we perceive the sayings.
I was particularly struck by Logion (saying) 73, which is familiar to readers of the canonical gospels from Matthew 9:37-38 and Luke 10:2. Matthew puts the saying in the context of Jesus’ preaching and his compassion for the people who are like sheep without a shepherd. Luke puts it in the context of Jesus’ instructions to the followers he is sending out to spread the good news of God’s love. I think it’s these contexts, not the saying itself, that have led us to the traditional interpretation of the saying: we’re to labor for the harvest of souls, the conversion of those who do not know the good news.
Now, this is a perfectly fine interpretation of the saying in its narrative contexts. But reading the saying without any context jolted me into seeing it differently. Most of Thomas seems to be focused on our inner relationship with God and on the attitudes and actions of our souls. What if this particular saying is not about making converts but about what is going on inside us?
When I read the saying, it spoke to me of God’s abundance and the difficulty of recognizing that abundance. The world and our lives are full of the beauty and goodness of God’s gifts, and yet I spend much of my time focused on my problems, my pains, my needs. Too often I’m living out of a theology of scarcity – there isn’t enough, I need more, I can’t have, I’m without, I’m missing. And all I have to do is open my eyes to the overwhelming beauty of the universe and my own weedy back yard to find evidence of God’s generosity. All I have to do is sit quietly and welcome the sense of God’s presence within me and all around me. There is enough – enough for today, enough for eternity. God is in me, and I am in God. What more do I need, lack, want, regret?
The prayer to the Master of the Harvest, then, is my prayer to God to be transformed so that I can turn from my theology of scarcity and grow into a theology of abundance. It’s a prayer to be changed, to be able to harvest the abundance of love and beauty and goodness that surround me, to carry that love, beauty, and goodness inward to my heart, so that I can melt into the heart of God with loving thankfulness and with joy in the abundance of God’s creating.