The other day I was reading this passage and the fuller context caught my attention.
Matthew 9.35-38Notice what Jesus is feeling prior to his comment about sending workers into the harvest field:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Jesus has compassion for the people because they are "harassed and helpless." The text doesn't say he has compassion on them because they are sinners in the hands of an angry God, destined for eternal hellfire. The crowds were lost--they were directionless, like sheep without a shepherd--but they weren't lost as the fire and brimstone evangelists tend to frame it, as standing under the judgment of a wrathful God.
All this changes the framing of how we might think about the "workers for the harvest." People are lost. But they aren't damned. They are, rather, harassed and helpless. Directionless and aimless. Looking for care. Searching for good news.
So the workers do what Jesus did. Having compassion for others we imitate the two things Jesus did.
We proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and we provide care, healing every disease and sickness.