In today’s gospel, we hear about the ministry of Our Lord, and how he “went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.“
This is a somewhat formulaic summation of Christ’s earthly ministry. But this verse becomes so much more powerful when it is followed by an ever-so-slight, but illuminating insight into the person of Jesus Christ, God and Man; one that shows His humanity and Divinity in perfect union: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Our Lord, Man and God, sees the crowds coming to him; lost, broken, hurting, and crying out for their shepherd, and his heart is moved to “pity” over their existential loneliness.
One can only imagine it is the same sort of feeling we get when we see images on the news, perhaps, of innocent Syrian children in the middle of a war zone, their innocence obscured and tarnished underneath the blood and dust smearing their faces. It is that feeling of being confronted with a seemingly insurmountable amount of suffering.
Our Lord then laments that “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few“. There are so many in need of love and compassion in this world, but so very few people willing to give of themselves.
But Our Lord then offers hope, saying “so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” He then brings together the 12 Apostles and gives them “authority” to drive out demons and heal the sick of every disease and every illness.
This is Our Lord giving His divine mercy to us, through His Apostles. He commands them to: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”
Through that commission and granting of authority, Christ established his instrument for mercy on Earth, which continues today in His Church. Our Bishops, the successors to the Apostles, and the Church they watch over are still ministering to all the lost sheep and proclaiming that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’
That is why in this season of Advent when the Church is preparing us for Christmas, we must remember that the One whose birth we prepare to celebrate commands us to not just feel and lament the pity elicited by those vast and overwhelming seas of the lonely and broken, but to take action and become laborers to bring His mercy to them. We are called to action and labor at the command of the Master of the Harvest.
Fittingly, today is the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier. Perhaps no single person in the history of the Church better exemplifies the actions of a person willing to answer this call. Saint Francis Xavier traveled the world, into the great unharvested fields, seeking out those who did not know Christ, and bringing the Gospel to them. By some accounts, he converted 7 Million people!
This Advent, as “the Kingdom of God is at hand”, even taking the smallest action for Our Lord and His people will draw you nearer to Him. While we all can’t be Saint Francis Xavier, we all can be laborers in the vineyards. When confronted with suffering in this world; first let your heart not be so hard so that it can still be moved to pity, like Our Lord’s was, and then, like St. Francis Xavier, answer the call by laboring for the harvest.