I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.
Jesus said these words in the context of his encounter with a Samaritan woman. To his followers this was shocking. She was incompatible with their understanding of the fellowship of the Messiah; she was not fit: not by religion, not by ancestry and not by morality. But he, prophetically looking through the lens of this improbable relationship, saw a multitude of people made whole, reconciled, and, as a family, living the life of the World to Come.
These words and this approach have echoes in the other gospels. The approach clearly frames the early church’s vision of its future work. It isn’t based on the capacity of available resources or the possibility of desirable recruits. It appears to be based on nothing more than a confidence in the prophetic word. The prophets indicated that God would raise up a people who embodied a redeemed diversity, a communal redemption that would confound human expectation and prefigure the World to Come.
All the work of the early church was directed towards this redeemed fellowship. Its movement toward that goal was not shaped by the church’s in-hand resources or the members that were presently a part of their fellowship. They built their communal structure for a future that went beyond who they were in their present circumstances. Their church was designed for who they were to become, a people gathered by God toward a world that was to come. The work of the early church was enchanted by a vision of the future that God was calling them to. From the teaching of Jesus the members of the early church derived the primary elements of that future: rather than being built on assumptions of human strength, they would grow by compassion for those in pain, need and strife. Their great harvest would be the poor and the outcast. They would embody the reconciling forgiveness of the World to Come in the makeup of their common life. They would build their life on the morality and vision of God’s future.
The goal of our work in this age is not to be designed by our perceptions of the present reality of who we are. We are to look around and see a human need that God is calling to hope. Our church structures and life are not to be based on the past or present but on a future that God is calling us to. Let us shape our fellowship and the various structures of our communal life for a people who are called to be the dawning of God’s new World.