Open Your Eyes

John 4:35 “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”

You know the background for Jesus’ words to the disciples here. It’s the part of the story we know best: Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It is this fascinating study in evangelism methodology. He breaks the ice with a simple request for a drink, turns it into discussion about our need for spiritual life, weaves a presentation of the law into a brief mention of her family life, uses her attempt to change the subject to focus further on her need to know God better, and finally drops the gospel bombshell on her: He is the Christ that she has been waiting for. Jesus saw his mission field clearly.

Meanwhile the disciples had been off in town buying food. Nothing indicates they even recognized they were in a mission field. And we know there were some obvious reasons for that. John the gospel writer notes the woman’s surprise that Jesus would talk to her because Jews do not associate with Samaritans. These two groups got along like Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. For the disciples, going to buy that food may have felt a little awkward. These were people you didn’t talk to except to have an argument. “Let’s get our food and get out of here.” The disciples saw their mission field poorly.

The difference between Jew and Samaritan–the moral and spiritual tensions, the cultural differences, the historical resentments– didn’t make them less of a field. In many ways, it made them the field. You don’t have to harvest the grain that is already in the barn. You have to bring in what is outside. And until now, these people had been outside.

Does Jesus’ example help you see the harvest better? Give your field a closer look. I don’t deny that some of the people in it may look, dress, think, and act pretty much like us already. The goal is not to make our church an eclectic mix of people, a motley crew of humanity, for its own sake. Go ahead and reach the white, middle-class family with traditional values and previous Christian background. Don’t feel guilty about doing so for one second. After Jesus ascended, the disciples started with people who looked just like them, too. Jesus told them that they would.

But the gay couple who just moved in next door are part of that field as well. I don’t deny that there is some difficult and delicate work to do there. There are obvious differences to address, issues that can’t be overlooked. But “change” is repentance’s middle name. It is its first and last name, too. I don’t know how exactly you will break the ice and start the conversation, but the gospel harvest tools we’ve been given are sharp and effective.

Maybe you have heard of Rosaria Champaign-Butterfield. She was a lesbian-feminist professor of gender studies at Syracuse. Today she is married to a man who pastors a Christian church, and she is the mother of four children. Another pastor simply started asking her questions about why she thought the way she did, and then he listened to her answers patiently. It opened up the door to conversations that led to the gospel, and conversion. Now she gives her Christian testimony around the country.

Maybe you have heard of Nabeel Qureshi, a descendant of the prophet Mohammed’s own tribe, who studied to be a doctor at Old Dominion University in Virginia. When Christians tried to explain the Trinity to him by calling it a “mystery” he thought, “The only mystery here is how you could believe in something as ridiculous as Christianity.” But he became friends with a Christian classmate named David, whose spiritual passion matched his own. David didn’t give up on his witness to Nabeel, and he didn’t give up on the friendship, either. Nabeel found Jesus and spent his last years as a Christian apologist and speaker.

Our kind were once the fields that were hard to see. It took a special vision to get Peter to visit a Roman centurion, and Paul to cross over to Europe on his Second Missionary Journey. But Jesus bled and died to save worldly Greeks, power-hungry Romans, and pagan Germanic tribes beyond them. Grace enabled early Jewish Christians to see a harvest among people like us. See your neighbor through your own forgiven sins, and see the harvest when you give your field a closer look.

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