In our gospel reading today, Jesus is going around to cities and villages, teaching in synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he sees the crowds, he has compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he says these iconic words: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:35-38)
Jesus recognizes that people are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and he has compassion for them. That is his motivating drive: Compassion! Then he sends his team out with these words: I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
It reminds me of a scene from the movie “Witness” where an older Amish man warns John Book, played by Harrison Ford, as he leaves the safety of the Amish village to go back to Philadelphia: “John Book, watch out for them there English”.
I’ve been taking long walks in an area known as the Sweet water River Reserve. It’s a large reserve and the area I walk goes along the river, before heading into the desert hills. (or what is known as a river, but not much water unless it has rained lately), an area located just south of Rancho San Diego. Sometimes my dog Bella joins me on these excursions. Before my last back surgery a couple of years ago, I was taking long walks on many trails in this area. Instead of my long walks, I keep my walks shorter now, and I try to stay away from the more difficult terrains.
In previous times I would look for more isolated trails, and. would wear hiking boots, and always carry a hiking stick for two reasons. The stick steadies me in undeveloped ground, and there are dangers of rattlesnakes on the trails less traveled. I remember one incident when I was high on the side of a hill, where the trail was almost nonexistent, and I was thinking, “Surely, there’s not many people like me using this trail”. And, then hearing a noise looking behind, and then hastily getting out of the way for a guy on a mountain bike traveling on that same trail, and I was thinking: “Everything isn’t what it seems”. Scattered in the desert trails are people on bikes, people on horses, people jogging, people walking their dogs. And some times things are not at all what’s they seem.
I have a special place I have adopted for my walks in this desert area. I call it my oasis in the desert. It’s a special place with two large trees right on the rivers edge, always green. The riverbed is almost dry, but there is an underground river, and these trees have deep roots. As you move closer, you begin to feel the cool breeze, and as you enter the quiet and peaceful place, the coolness and shade is truly welcoming, a reprieve from the hot desert sand.
Sometimes the desert can be used as a metaphor for the conditions of the world in which we are called to serve. In many ways our world is not a peaceful or friendly place. May we find that driving compassion that Jesus displayed to reach out with words of comfort and helping hands to the harassed and helpless, and let others know there is an oasis with a cool breeze, a welcoming oasis of rest and healing, a place to enjoy the the shade and cool breeze of the Spirit. A place to know God and a place to be known by God.