First Reading: Ex 19:2-6a; Psalm: 100. R. v. 3c; Second Reading: Rm 5:5-11; Gospel: Mt 9:36-10:8
A LABOURER OR A HIRELING?
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:37-38)
The above statement was the very words of Jesus. This was not a saying initiated from nowhere but drawn from Jesus’ immediate practical experience. Jesus made this prayerful request because he saw that the crowds before him were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Interestingly, Jesus had his disciples with him but was the only one who saw the pitiable condition of this crowd because he was a loving and compassionate shepherd who was in touch with the condition of his people. And this is what differentiates a labourer from a hireling.
Ordinarily, a labourer is someone whose work requires physical strength or whose job involves a lot of heavy physical work. A labourer is characterised by the desire to efficiently deliver the job entrusted to him and even more. The pay may come later but delivering the job matters most so that the labourer will be more deserving of his wages thereafter. So essentially we can say that a labourer puts his work first above every other thing. This is unlike a hireling who works purely for material reward. A hireling does menial jobs and is motivated primarily by the pay the job can offer. A payment has to be agreed upon before the job is accepted.
Jesus was a true labourer of his Father in that he sought for our good above every other thing. He was completely concerned about our well-being and offered his entire time and energy to this. If we put our heart to something, it will take up our feelings too. This is what we should learn from Jesus, that if we put our hearts to our work, we would become loving and compassionate labourers. True labourers therefore must put their hearts to the work otherwise they will not be in touch with the condition of those they are called to serve. The least thing in the mind of a true labourer is the reward for the services rendered; for a true labourer trusts in the providence of God.
The problem we have in our world today is that we have many hirelings disguised as true labourers. We have many Christians who offer services without putting their hearts or all of themselves to it. Christians who put reward before services and are only motivated to serve if incentivise. When Jesus said that the labourers of the harvest are few, we need to understand first and foremost that Jesus was not exclusively talking about priests, pastors and other ministers of the gospel but true Christians in general. And secondly, Jesus was not lamenting over the numeric shortage of labourers but over the lack of genuine committed Christians. Our world is in need of compassion and love but we have very few Christians committed to this course.
Our world today is similar to this same crowd Jesus saw in the gospel of today. A world harassed by bad governance, hardship, poverty, hunger, sickness, insecurity, and so many other painful and pitiable conditions. We are in this situation because we have more hirelings than true labourers. We have leaders who do not put their hearts to their jobs. Leaders who are interested in money than the job thereby under-performing and impoverishing the people without any sympathy. We have citizens (you and I) who do not put their hearts in being a true neighbour but are instead solely concerned about themselves. In a world like this, the poor and the deprived will always suffer.
How about our Churches? Apparently it appears that the percentage of hirelings is gradually overtaking the percentage of true labourers. Jesus obviously was not praying for the increase in the number of priests and pastors who are money-oriented and unsympathetic about the condition of God’s people. He was not praying for the increase of shepherds who are only motivated to work by a good pay and other material benefits and become lackadaisical when these incentives are not readily available. These are hirelings; they are definitely not labourers. Jesus rather was praying for true labourers who have the people and the work of God at heart. Labourers who are moved to the heart by the condition of those they are called to serve and are motivate by love and compassion.
Jesus also was not praying for Christian parents who put themselves before their children. Parents who neglect their families but spend a lot of fortune in keeping and sustaining extramarital affairs. Parents who are missing in action in their responsibilities as Christian fathers and mothers. Parents who act as caretakers and not as true guardians to their children. Our world is not in need of these kinds of parents but parents who are altruistic for the good of their families. Parents need to understand that they play a pivotal role in bringing out the best from their children. If we do not play our role well as Christian parents, then we are not true labourers but hirelings.
But parents must be careful not to spoon-feed their children. They must be wary of keeping their children around their wealth and possessions otherwise they may end up training a crop of children who will grow up lazy and irresponsible and see themselves as caretakers of their parents’ establishments. A parent who is a true labourer should instil the discipline of hard work into the family. The children must learn to be independent, hardworking and selfless so as to also become true labourers and continue this circle of humanitarian service.
Truly, the harvest is indeed plentiful because we all have a lot to do to make our world a better place. We are all called today to put the whole of ourselves in every responsibility we carry out. This is what Jesus wants from us; to show true commitment in our services to God and to one another. To work and to serve purely for goodness sake and not primarily for any inducement. This is what makes us true labourers; and these are the kind of people our world is desperately in need of.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus Christ, make us true labourers of your harvest. Amen.