The Parable of the Young Adults (or, of Sheep and Harvests)
Wednesday 5 July 2011
I was struck by yesterday’s Gospel. Taken from the ninth chapter of Matthew, a few of the closing verses of the selection for the day caught my attention and spoke to me of the state of the world today. Isn’t it something how Scripture continues to speak to us in our own day? The images of sheep and harvest remind me of today’s young adults, those men and women from about 18-35. Those who are just setting out in life around college age to those who are a beginning to find their way in their careers and starting families of their own.
The passage from the Gospel of Matthew reads:
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:36-38).
Having just spent a year teaching at a small liberal-arts college in New York, the first image that came to mind was that of the young college students first starting out on their own. Most of the freshman students were experiencing life “on their own” for the first time, having been reared in an age that is typified by the helicopter parent and the doting overseer.
So sheltered are some of these students prior to (and sometimes during) college, that they at once appear as sheep without a shepherd, children without parents to tell them what to do, how to do laundry, when to go to bed and what to eat. It can be a stressful time for many.
It is also a time when young adults really are able to embrace their own identities and establish relationships on their own terms. Previously, most had the compass of their families to orient their paths. Now they find themselves standing at a magnetic pole, equally able to move in any which direction. Statistically, it is clear that many, if not most, of these young adults are “un-churched,” largely unfamiliar with organized religion, dogmatic positions or religious practices. Simultaneously, these young adults are searching for meaning and desire to understand better what their lives are about.
What was planted, while perhaps occasionally nurtured by artificial fertilizer, as seedlings previously has begun to sprout and bloom. The harvest is upon us, but there are few there to gather the bounty. Instead, so many young people are left in the field, their roots planted wherever one is able to dig in, they lie in the harsh sun and cold night, full of fruit and potential, life untapped. They go to waste.
So many young people simply need a model or guide for the journey. They need a harvester who will recognize the bountiful harvest that has blossomed from the seedlings planted by their parents. But who will do this? Who will pay attention to the young adults? Who will teach them? Who will guide them? Who will shepherd them?
Today we cannot lose sight of the Spirit working through the Word of God. The harvest remains plentiful, the potential for justice, peace and God’s Reign in this world is abundant – but it requires laborers for the harvest. I understand some part of my own vocation to be one such laborer. Like so many others, I too was (or perhaps, still am) a sheep without a shepherd, yet the Franciscan tradition offered me a pathway and guidance for the journey. I believe it is partly my responsibility to serve the younger members of my generation and those who will come afterward as I have been so served by my peers and elders.
So many of today’s young adults are “harassed and helpless,” as hear from Jesus in the Scripture. So many factors lead to this state. What are we going to do about it? Are you willing to be a laborer in the field of God’s Kingdom?