THE HEAVENLY FOOD AND THE
FIELD OF HARVEST
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something."
But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." Then
His disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought Him food?" "My
food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His
work. Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you,
open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the
reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so
that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying 'One sows
and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.
Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their
labor." John 4:31-38
The departure of the woman of Samaria to communicate her
tidings of wonder and joy to her fellow-citizens in Shechem introduces us to a
second scene in the shifting drama of the narrative. Up to this point the
whole interest is concentrated in the conversation between her and the Savior.
Now it is between Jesus and His returned disciples. They are once more alone.
The verses which head this chapter are so full of material for thought, that
little more can be done than to give a running commentary upon them, leaving
the reader to fill in with details the outline of the suggestive picture.
The adorable Redeemer, as we have previously seen, was
seated on the brink of the Well, absorbed in mysterious contemplation. No one
ventured to intrude on His sacred musings. "Just then his disciples arrived.
They were astonished to find Him talking to a woman, but none of them asked
Him why He was doing it or what they had been discussing." The disciples now
resolve to break silence. They observe His wan and weary countenance. They
know that He cannot fail to be hungry, with His fast unbroken since the early
morning meal, and with the long and toilsome travel through the hot plain.
With earnest imploring accents they asked Him to partake of their provided
refreshment, "In the meanwhile His disciples urging Jesus to eat." Their
request was apparently disregarded. With His eye and soul still riveted in
these mystic communings, He replies in the enigmatical words, "I have food to
eat that you know not of."
The disciples looked at each other in perplexity. Though
they may have heard the last words of the conversation with the woman, they
were in entire ignorance as yet of its results; they said one to another, "Has
any man brought Him anything to eat?" 'Has His hunger been satisfied in our
absence?—has some passing wayfarer shared his food with Him?—or has this
Samaritan drawer of water so far overcome her sectarian scruples as to
minister to His needs? Or has He departed in the present case from His usual
measures, and called in the exercise of supernatural means? Has He summoned,
as His great prophet of Cherith, the ravens from Ebal or the silver plumaged
doves of Gerizim to be His suppliers?—or have angels, as in the Mount of
Temptation, been sent to Him to strengthen Him?'
Poor earthly dreamers! they had utterly failed to grasp the
meaning and grandeur of His saying; the material thoughts which for the moment
were occupying them, prevented them fathoming these profound musings. They had
nothing to draw with, and the well was deep. His reference was to food of a
far different kind—"Man does not live by bread alone." Who can wonder, as
Augustine well observes, at the 'inability of the ignorant, uninstructed
Samaritan woman, in the previous interaction, to comprehend the spiritual
symbol of the living water, when the Savior's own disciples manifest a similar
inability to comprehend the meaning of the living bread! But He bears with
their lack of spiritual discernment; He upbraids them not; but rather, we may
imagine, His face suffused with joy, He continues in a tone of sublime
mystery, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His
It was another noble utterance. The whole grandeur of the
scheme of Redemption seemed, as in a vision or trance of glory, to pass at
that moment before His eyes—the work that was to be finished on the cross by
giving Himself a ransom for the world—bringing up the living water by the
golden cord of His everlasting love, in order that perishing millions might be
saved forever. It was the partaking of these streams of salvation by one of
these millions, (the unlikeliest unit among them all,) which had given birth
to these divine meditations. We have already noted the suggestive silence
which closed the preceding interview: such silence, we found, as is often the
result, or attendant of strong emotional feeling. The same mental agitation
his been known, not infrequently, to put a temporary arrest on the demands of
There are great crisis-hours—times whether of yearning
affection or of patriot valor—when the whole nature being in a paroxysm of
suspense, the pangs of physical hunger are overborne and suppressed. The brave
leader in the beleaguered fort or garrison, where the lives of hundreds
are staked on a few hours or days of heroic resistance, is sustained by doing
his duty—the cravings of the lower nature are subordinated, for the time
being, to the demands of the higher. Or the mother, when her child is
being rescued from the surging waves, can stand hunger-stricken for hours
together on the bleak shore; the food which sympathizing hands have brought
lies untouched at her side, as she watches with eager gaze the return of
suspended animation—the revivifying of her withered flower—the call of hunger
is forgotten until she is relieved from her agonizing vigil by the glad word,
"Your child lives."
He who was "bone of our bone," partaker of our nature in
all its finer and grander emotions, surrenders Himself here to the same
absorbing power. He rises, in these magnificent musings of obedience and love,
above the sensation of bodily hunger. The meal procured in the Samaritan town
is laid at His side, but He heeds it not; another banquet of better
spiritual food rivets His thoughts; another Gerizim—another Mount of
imperishable blessing rises before Him—"And on this mountain the Lord Almighty
will spread a wonderful feast for everyone around the world. It will be a
delicious feast of good food, with clear, well-aged wine and choice beef. In
that day he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs
over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe
away all tears."
And here we have to note a new turn in the conversation. A
new object seems at this moment to arrest observation and to offer fresh food
and theme for holy joy. As He gazes along the wide green plain in the
direction of Shechem, a crowd appears in the distance. He does not require to
be informed of whom that crowd is composed; for His omniscient eye has
followed the woman in her mission to her fellow-townsmen, and He now
recognizes her returning at their head, towards the spot which had so hallowed
a place in her own dearest memories. He resumes His divine discourse, and
secures afresh the attention of His wondering disciples by quoting a Galilean
proverb to these men of Galilee.
It is worthy of note, how largely the Divine Redeemer, in
His sayings and discourses, loved to use the book of nature as the
interpreter of the volume of grace. We know how His parables teem with pages
from that volume. He loved to make the outer natural world a consecrated
medium for the illumination and illustration of spiritual verities. He had
done so already in the previous part of this conversation at the well. He had
taken the water to symbolize what alone could quench the thirst of the
deathless spirit. He had taken the bread, which the disciples had laid
on its stone margin, and made it speak of higher realities—the sustaining
power derived from the consciousness of doing God's will and finishing His
work. And now, as once more He looks around Him on the magnificent plain
flushed with the green of early spring—an unbroken expanse of verdure—He takes
this beautiful page in the same illuminated book of nature, as the exponent of
the great thoughts that were burdening His soul—"Do you not say [in other
words, are not you accustomed to this proverbial saying], 'Four months more
and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They
are ripe for harvest."
He passed from the green sprouting corn all around, to the
glorious fullness of a spiritual ingathering, whose first ripe sheaf in
the person of the Samaritan woman had that day been reaped. As if He had said,
'In this present case of better spiritual reaping, it is not as in the natural
world where development is gradual, where the grain is ripened and matured by
slow invisible processes—first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in
the ear. Here is a more glorious harvest ready—a harvest of souls—a people
born in a day—in the fields of unpromising Samaria the reaper-angels may
already put in their sickles, for the harvest is ripe. The glory of Lebanon
has been given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; it has seen the
glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God.'
But it would be a restricted and imperfect view of these
divine reflections—these ecstatic thoughts and emotions, did we regard them as
evoked merely by the appearance of that handful of approaching Shechemites. He
regards such only as the representatives of a vaster throng, the first-fruits
of a redeemed multitude which no man can number, who are to be gathered at the
great harvest of the world. He sees now a handful of corn on the top of these
mountains of Ephraim, but the fruit thereof is one day to shake like Lebanon,
and they of the city to flourish like grass of the earth. They are the
Eshcol-pledges of a far more glorious vintage. Perhaps, in the language here
employed, He may be instituting a comparison between the woman with her
fellow-Samaritans, and the green fields around yet untouched with the latter
rains, and on which the glow of harvest was yet far off, though it would in
due time surely come. That company of human souls formed the early seed sown;
but in them, as through a telescopic glass, He beheld in prophetic vista the
bounteous fields of the wide world waving in their summer and autumn glory.
This was the true interpretation of His enigmatical
words—this was the food which those at His side knew not of. Under the shadow
of the great mountain of blessing before one of the holy places of nature's
gigantic temple, He, the great High Priest, waves the sheaf of first-fruits.
It is the pledge and harbinger of a glorious reaping-time at the final
harvest, when He, the Man of sorrows, now going forth weeping bearing precious
seed, would doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing His sheaves with
The spectacle before His eyes inspires Him with a new
longing and incentive to finish His work. He sees of the fruit of the travail
of His soul, and is satisfied. A later saying seems already to stir the depths
of His divine emotional nature: "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how
distressed I am until it is completed!" But (to complete this rapid paraphrase
of the verses yet remaining) though His own soul is thus full of joy—though He
is Himself the mighty Sower—the Author and Finisher of the faith, in that hour
of glowing anticipation He embraced also His own disciples, and through them
all His faithful harvest-men and reapers, who, to the end of time, were to be
subordinately associated with Him in bringing many sons unto glory. Great
also, He declares, will be their joy and reward, "And he that reaps receives
wages, and gathers fruit unto life eternal."
Oh, noble thought and recompense for all Christ's true
servants, struggling, toiling, baffled, and discouraged! The Master says, "He
gathers fruit unto life eternal." The toiler of earth has only an earthly
recompense. That recompense, moreover, is uncertain, capricious, precarious.
The drought may leave the harvest sickles hanging rusting on the walls, or a
sudden wave of calamity may come and sweep the harvest of a lifetime away. But
the spiritual laborer sows and reaps for eternity! Reaping, too, beyond the
reach of casualty or disaster. No shortcoming in the garners of immortality;
no blight to mock his hopes; no failure to defraud him of his harvest joy.
And, better than all, it is added, "Both he that sows, and he that reaps,
shall rejoice together"—the Master and the servant, the Lord and disciple.
In the great reaping day of Judgment, when every faithful
harvestman will be called to receive his reward, and when fidelity, not
success, will form the ground of approval, this will be the noblest—the
peerless element in the recompense, "Enter into the joy of your Lord." "They
rejoice before You according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when
they divide the spoil."
The writer of these pages vividly recalls the last glimpse
he took of the Well of Jacob, with Mount Gerizim rising behind in its sky of
cloudless azure. The lines of a simple but well-known hymn, prized more on
account of child memories, than for their own, intrinsic excellence, occurred
at the time. Their otherwise enigmatical emblems seemed, amid these
surroundings at least, to be invested with new meaning and significance. They
may appropriately end these chapters, as we, too, take our last mental glimpse
of the same hallowed spot, suggesting in symbol a better Fountain, and the
Gerizim of truer spiritual blessings.
They are lines which might befittingly have been put into
the lips of the woman of Samaria herself—the once lost, but now reclaimed
'wanderer from the fold'—as we may picture her at times stealing out alone to
the place of her spiritual birth, standing by the well with all its
consecrated remembrances, and with the knowledge that Gerizim and Zion were
henceforth to be displaced and superseded by a nobler Mountain—that of 'God's
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I've come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I'll sing Thy sovereign grace.
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.