The next installment of my translation of the Gospel of Matthew really excites me. The images and metaphors twist together in such a way that to pull them apart would render the whole inadequate. But blended, the images declare how God the Father and God the Son see us – as sick, troubled, crushed, desperate and directionless; yet at the same time loved, full of potential and valuable when directed by the Spirit and in the authority of Christ.
So here goes:
9.35 Καὶ περιῆγεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὰς πόλεις πάσας καὶ τὰς κώμας, διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν.
9.36 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἐσπλαγχνίσθη περὶ αὐτῶν, ὅτι ἦσαν ἐσκυλμένοι καὶ ἐρριμμένοι ὡσεὶ πρόβατα μὴ ἔχοντα ποιμένα. 9.37 τότε λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· ὁ μὲν θερισμὸς πολύς, οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι· 9.38 δἐηθητε οὖν τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ θερισμοῦ ὅπως ἐκβάλῃ ἐργάτας εἰς τὸν θερισμὸν αὐτοῦ.
9.35 And Jesus went to all the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and weakness.
9.36 And seeing the crowds, he had compassion on them, since they were troubled and cast down, as sheep without a shepherd. 9.37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, while the workers are few. 9.38 So plead with the lord of the harvest , that he may send out workers into his harvest.
More vocab for those interested parties:
- περιῆγεν – third person singular imperfect active of περιάγω, to go about, lead around, go along with oneself.
- κώμας – plural accusative of κώμη, the place where day laborers would return for sleep, thus “villages”. It can also refer to the residents themselves.
- κηρύσσων – nominative singular present active participle of κηρύσσω, to proclaim, to herald. A sense of authority is implied.
- νόσον – singular accusative of νόσος, disease or sickness.
- μαλακίαν – singular accusative of μαλακία, with application around the idea of softness, infirmity, or bodily weakness
- ἐσπλαγχνίσθη – third person singular aorist passive of σπλαγχνίζομαι, to have compassion, to be moved to ones innards (specifically the bowels, the metaphorical seat of the emotions).
- ἐσκυλμένοι – plural nominative participle of σκυλλω, to trouble or cause worry
- ἐρριμμένοι – plural nominative perfect passive participle of ῥίπτω, with the idea of being cast down, thrown down, or prostrate on the ground.
- ἐργάται, ἐργάτας – plural nominative/accusative of ἐργάτης, field laborers, workers
- δἐηθητε – aorist passive (deponent) imperative of δέομαι, to want or lack, to desire, or to ask, beg for what one desires; to pray
νόσον v μαλακίαν. I’m still a little fuzzy where the difference or overlap in these two are, but I am working with the idea that μαλακίαν more represents perpetual and debilitating conditions, while νόσον is the more temporary condition of illness, sickness. But that is a guess, based on the definitions I have found. It would be nice, based on the common proximity of these two to each other, that more clarity on this could be found.
I was challenged as I decided what to do with “every” in “every sickness and every disease”. The NLT chooses to say “every sort of…” I wasn’t inclined to follow that, however. Neither would I have you think that when Jesus left the area, there was no instance of illness or disease, bodily weakness or malignancy. That would be stepping too far, I think. I would read these words to say that when Jesus encountered sickness or infirmity, he dealt with it. It was part of his call and mission, part of “proclaiming” or “preaching” the good news.
Just a note, Textus Receptus includes the phrase ἐν τῷ λαῷ “in/among the people” after μαλακίαν.
Verse 36 shows that the plight of the people was met by Jesus’ compassion. The two words used by Jesus to describe the people both have their difficulties. The first is simply textual – some Greek manuscripts use ἐκλελυμένοι, which has different, though complimentary, range of meaning. The second is the sense of the word ἐρριμμένοι. A couple different thoughts come to mind that all play together with Jesus’ response. In light of the near reference to unprotected, leaderless sheep, I can imagine Jesus looking at these people as preyed upon by the proverbial wolves, pinned down and prostrate in their grip. Because that is the likely outcome for a sheep without a shepherd. But as an extension of ἐσκυλμένοι, “troubled” or “worried”, we can see the weight of these things pressing down on them, a burden that crushes them into the ground, with no one to help them out of their predicament; they are after all, sheep without a shepherd.
In verse 37, Jesus turns more privately, to his disciples, and shows them what he is thinking about as he sees the people. They are like a field at harvest time, which will be wasted if there are not field laborers. The irony of the image is that he is very likely looking at those who are themselves field workers, many “living” in the κώμαι, the places where the day laborers would return to sleep and prepare for the next day in the field. Jesus asks his disciples to have the same gut-wrenching reaction he did – to do something about it.
That something is prayer, entreaty, pleading, begging. Not that we should think of God as someone unwilling to “send out workers”, unwilling to have compassion himself. But when our hearts are appropriately touched by the need, the natural, Spirit-led response will be to ask God to do something. And I might add that it is likely that that something will involve us. Ask away – and remember that the subject of the pleading is workers.
The call to “send out” is not as tame as it might sound. We are really talking about the lord of the harvest ordering workers out, thrusting them forward with authority and directness. This is not the passive sort of harvesting sometimes suggested from the words of Matthew 28:19, where it says something like, “As you are going…”. I can almost hear the owner of the farm, “Now get out there before the whole lot goes to waste! I better not see you back here fooling around if there is even one stalk of grain left in the field.”
I find it incredibly powerful that this request to plead for workers comes as Jesus is looking at those who are themselves the workers of the image he portrays. It’s as if to say that not only are these people the harvest itself, Jesus wants to transform them into harvesters of a different sort. He sees value and fruit-bearing potential, where others have seen only trouble and concern, indirection and uselessness. But first, the disciples must work the fields, and chapter 10 details the sending out of the twelve with Jesus’ authority.
No wonder he had compassion. You can pity someone who has ruined their life when you don’t really care enough about them to do anything. It is quite another matter, beyond pity, when you see that though they are broken now, they have eternal value, and can be more, and you have the power and message to bring that to reality.