Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38 (CEB)
Jesus had been busy travelling from town to town, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel, and freeing people from the debilitation, pain, and misery of all kinds of ailments. But there were still more people who were lost and hurting and in need of help.
Jesus observed the crowds and saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. The work was too much for Jesus and the Twelve. So Jesus turned to his disciples and, using an agricultural metaphor, he said,
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 (NIV)
Jesus wanted others to be involved and help him in the work of sharing and ministering the good news of the kingdom. Shepherd-leaders and harvester-evangelists were needed.
In Bible times, women, as well as men, were shepherds. And at harvest time, every able-bodied person was out in the fields, all working together, trying to bring in the harvest as quickly as possible. Everyone was encouraged to get involved. No one stopped a capable man or woman from harvesting. And, when he asked his disciples to pray for workers to be sent out into the harvest field, Jesus did not specify that they should ask for, and accept, only men.
After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” Luke 10:1-2 (NIV).
In this verse above, Luke uses the same metaphor about harvest workers as in Matthew’s gospel, but he uses it in the context of the seventy-two (or seventy) being sent out to minister (Luke 10:1-2). It is likely that there were women among the seventy-two.
Many women followed Jesus and travelled with him (Luke 8:1-3). And Jesus discipled and taught them as well as the men (Luke 10:38-42; John 4:7-26). Furthermore, Jesus trusted and valued women, and involved them in his mission (Matt. 28:9-10, cf. John 20:17-18; John 4:39-42).
Ben Witherington suggests that the short parable about sowing and reaping given in John 4:37-38 may be intended to imply that the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) is one of the sowers or reapers.
Ben Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” Ashland Theological Journal 17.1 (Fall 1984): 22-30, 24. (Online source)
There are still plenty of people who are harassed, helpless, and without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36), and the harvest has never been more plentiful. Do we ask God to send only male workers? Should the church use only men as shepherds and harvesters?
The work of the Kingdom will progress more quickly and efficiently if men and women can share in Jesus’ mission. If they can minister according to their individual abilities and temperaments, as well as their God-given gifts and talents (cf. Matt. 25:14-30). Both men and women are capable of teaching and preaching the gospel, and of bringing hope and healing to the harvest field (cf. Matt. 9:35-38).
There is no real reason why capable women cannot minister as shepherds and evangelists. We must not let a restrictive interpretation of one or two Bible verses suppress and prohibit godly and gifted women from ministry. Instead, we should be training, encouraging, and promoting gifted women, as well as men, in ministry, as we continue to ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers. They are desperately needed.
The Red Vineyard (1888) by Vincent van Gogh (Wikimedia)
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