Catcher in the Rye

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
3 May 2016
Text: John 4:35-38

Although we were not able to cover this text in our current series on John’s Gospel, we believe it is essential for showing how God loved the world and for shaping gospel mission. The following was adapted from our Gospel + Mission series.

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

Lift up your eyes and see. Let’s explore this phrase a bit. If you listen carefully you will hear echoes from the OT scriptures.

When God called Abraham out of Ur into Canaan the Lord said to him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

When God called Moses to come up on Mount Pisgah the Lord said to him, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at [the promise land] with your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 3:27)

When God spoke to his people through Isaiah the Lord said, “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; [all nations shall come to your light,] they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude shall cover you, They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:3-6)

Lift up your eyes -– God’s word is being fulfilled. Look –- God’s word is bearing fruit.

It is possible that Jesus had some of these OT scriptures in mind when he said “lift up your eyes and look — the fields are white for the harvest. 

Why does Jesus say the fields are “white” for harvest instead of ripe for harvest? Two possible reasons: either the harvest fields appeared to be white in the afternoon sunlight, or the Samaritans who were coming out him were dressed in white (which was typical of their culture). Either way, the point stands: it is harvest time.

There’s a sense of excitement and urgency in these words. That is why Jesus says: Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’

As Calvin explains, “in order that this passage may be properly understood, we must comprehend the contrast between sowing and reaping. The sowing was the doctrine of the Law and the Prophets; for at that time the seed thrown into the soil remained, as it were, in the blade; but the doctrine of the Gospel, which brings men to proper maturity, is on that account justly compared to the harvest. For the Law was very far from that perfection which has at length been exhibited to us in Christ.”

Before Jesus Christ came into the world, the psalmists and prophets labored in God’s fields and sowed the seed of God’s word in order to prepare the world for the Christ. The fields are white for the harvest because God’s OT messengers labored at plowing them and sowing the seed.

One psalmist sang, “The earth will give her produce and God our God will bless us.” (Psalm 67)

Another psalmist sang, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6).

One prophet (Amos) said, “Behold, the days are coming” declares the Lord “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” (Amos 9:13)

And another prophet (Zechariah) said, “There shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” (Zechariah 8:12-13)

After Jesus Christ came into the world, the last OT prophet (John the Baptist) said,

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is greater than I and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11-12)

All these psalmists and prophets labored in God’s fields and sowed the seed of God’s word for hundreds of years in order to prepare the world for Jesus Christ. Now the sown seed has become a fruitful plant in the fields of the Lord. The Samaritan field is yielding its produce and now the fields are white for the harvest.

Jesus saw that the Samaritan fields were white unto harvest because many plowers, sowers, and waterers had already labored so long in that land. And now he wants his disciples to join that labor force by reaping the harvest.

So when the Samaritan villagers come out to the well to meet Jesus he says to his disciples: I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor. 

What the psalmists and prophets and Christ had worked for, the apostles are sent out to reap among the nations.

What happened in Samaria with the Samaritan woman at the well and the people of Sychar is just one example of what God predicted would happen through Zechariah the prophet:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zech 8:20-23)

Jesus shows us by example that gospel and mission involve individuals and communities. It takes a missional community to harvest a village.

Jesus is the Lord of Harvest. The Savior of the world. The true and better Catcher in the Rye.* It’s the only thing he really ever wanted to be.

And it’s the only thing we need to be.

We are on mission with Jesus. So let us pray that the Lord of Harvest will send forth laborers into his harvest fields. Including us.


*This title is from J.D. Salinger’s novel. In some ways, it describes Jesus’ mission in the fields of the world.

You know what I’d like to be if I had my own choice? You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? I’d like–Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. (spoken by Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22)

catcher_in_the_rye_by_paperslave-d64652j

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